A few years ago, during a conference with a reasonably new judge used the term "off the shelf parenting plan" to describe what he assumed a normal parenting time plan should be. This plan was alternate weekends, Friday to Sunday night, and one night per week for dinner. While my client was happy, because she did not want her husband to have more parenting time, with all due respect to the judge who became a very good family court judge just in time to be rotated to another division, was he right?
If this was the 1970s, 1980s or before, perhaps he would be right – or at least that was the prevalent parenting plan at the time. However, parenting roles, societal norms and more importantly, psychological and social science research have come a long way since then. Time and again, you no read and hear that, in most cases, children benefit from as much time as possible with both parents. This does not necessarily mean an equal schedule and also must be adjusted for the ages of the child(ren). For instance, a proper parenting plan for an infant or toddler, is different than for an older child. In fact, for infants, there is a lot of research suggesting that overnights are not appropriate, but that more frequent visits are appropriate. Much of the literature breaks things up as follows: birth to 2 years; 2 to 3 years; 3 to 5 years; 6 to 9 years; 10 to 12 years; and teenagers.
What is clear, however, if a non-custodial parent wants substantial overnights with their children, assuming that that the kids are over 5, more likely than not, an custody expert will more likely recommend some type of shared parenting schedule, including perhaps true, shared 50-50 parenting. What do I mean by shared parenting? Between 5 and 7 out of 14 overnights.
As such, if one party is trying to restrict parenting time, I will often suggest that my client seek a custody expert (joint or their own expert) because of the likelihood that absent some problem (psychological issues, abuse issues, substance issues) or logistical issues (the parties live too far apart to make shared parenting work), most experts usually recommend some type of shared parenting because that is what the research suggests is in a child’s best interests.
Are experts making this recommendations only for super involved parents? Not necessarily, though the more involved the parent has been, the more likely that they can get a 50-50 plan or 6 out of 14 overnights. Because sometimes judges (as well as mediators and arbitrators) are not always aware of the current developments in the research, the attorney for the party seeking more time has to educate the judge, mediator or arbitrator. Sometimes that means getting an expert. Other times, especially if during a motion early in a case, it may mean filing a brief citing and attaching the articles.
The take away here is that it is rare that a parent has to settle for alternate weekends and one night for dinner if they seek more parenting time.
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Roseland, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973)994-7501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.