SYTSMA: The new Friend of the Court parenting guidelines
If you have a custody and parenting time order in Cass County, you may be required to follow the provisions set forth in the Cass County Friend of the Court Parenting Time Guideline. The Parenting Time Guideline was developed by the Cass County FOC and sets forth specific parenting time schedules for regular, holiday, school-break, long-distance, and telephone/video parenting time. It also provides policies and procedures for child exchanges, school enrollment, and children’s activities, as well as information about enforcing or changing your court order. The Parenting Time Guideline applies to parenting time issues not addressed in a court order regarding parenting time or when the court order indicates the Parenting Time Guideline is to be applied.
Prior versions of the Parenting Time Guideline were issued in 1993 and 2015. The newest version of the Parenting Time Guideline was issued May 3, 2021. The most important changes to the guideline, and a few important reminders, are highlighted in this article.
A main focus of the new Parenting Time Guideline is to encourage parents to develop a shared parenting time plan that best fits their family and children’s needs. Several potential parenting time plans have been added to the Parenting Time Guideline to give parents options to consider if they cannot come up with their own plan. These include plans for equal parenting time, the traditional “reasonable rights” of parenting time, an extended version of the reasonable rights of parenting time, and several options for long-distance parenting time.
Many parents follow the Parenting Time Guideline when they alternate holiday and school break parenting time. In order to make transitions between regular and holiday/school break parenting time less confusing, changes were made to the start and end times of certain holidays and school breaks. The Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays now start at 6 p.m. the day before the holiday and ends at 6 p.m. on the holiday. The Thanksgiving holiday still begins at 9 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, but now ends at 6 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving. Spring Break and Christmas Break now start at 6 p.m. on the day that school lets out for the break and end at 6 p.m. the day before school starts again after the break. If each parent has one half of Christmas break, and the parents are unable to agree on the midpoint exchange day and time, the Parenting Time Guideline provides parents with the option of emailing the Cass County FOC for a determination of the exchange day.
The Parenting Time Guideline also highlights each parent’s responsibilities when it comes to extracurricular activities. Neither parent may enroll a child in an activity that occurs during the other parent’s court-ordered parenting time unless the other parent agrees. Parents shall exchange information about the children’s activities so that both parents can attend and participate in the activities.
The exchange of contact information and issues regarding travel are also addressed in the Parenting Time Guideline. Each parent must provide the other parent with a home phone number or a residential home address where the children will be staying during parenting time. The failure to provide that information will result in the forfeiture of parenting time until the information is provided. Regarding travel, unless your court order specifically says so, a parent is not prohibited from taking a child out of state. Cass County borders another state and it is fairly ordinary to travel to another state for routine activities. However, if either parent travels with the children outside of Michigan or more than 100 miles away for more than eight hours, that parent must inform the other parent and provide a basic itinerary and emergency contact information. A “basic itinerary” is considered information about where the child is traveling, how they are getting there, where they are staying, and how long they will be there.
The new Parenting Time Guideline covers all of the issues described above and more. It is found online at Cass-FOC-Parenting-Time-Guideline-effective-5.3.21.pdf (casscourtsmi.org). If you have questions about the Parenting Time Guideline or if you have questions about the FOC that you think would be helpful to address in future columns, please send them to the FOC email address: email@example.com.
Melissa Sytsma is the Cass County Friend of the court Attorney referee. Contact the Friend of the Court at firstname.lastname@example.org