As a family law attorney, parents regularly come to my office and request that I help them formalize a parenting time schedule that is in the best interests of their minor children. I often think to myself, “Great! I like where this is going. Let's get started!”
Within in the first ten minutes of the conversation, I can tell whether or not this parent is looking for a parenting plan that truly is in the children's best interests or if this is really about the parents' wishes. Wait. Isn't wanting a plan that reflects the best interests of the minor child and a parenting plan that reflects the parents' wishes the same thing? I mean, a parent wishes for the best interests of their children, right?!
Let's be honest, most parents would love to exercise parenting time 100% of the time, but are aware that isn't realistic. So, a parent may offer a parenting schedule they believe to be fair and reasonable, perhaps even an equal parenting schedule. One would think that if the parents have agreed on a fair parenting schedule that the parents' job is done and they have officially proven themselves to be parents looking at the best interests of their minor children.
Honestly, I completely agreed with the above scenario until I recently attended a seminar where the speaker raised some other issues with provisions that are normally included in parenting plans that go above and beyond the actual parenting time schedule. For example, most parenting plans set forth parameters for telephonic communication. A normal provision may state something such as, “If the minor child is exercising parenting time with one parent, the other parent shall be allowed one phone call every day at 7:30 p.m.” At first glance, one might not see a problem with this provision. I know that I did not see a problem UNTIL I questioned whether this was a provision for the child's best interests or for the parent's wishes.
Is such a provision regarding telephonic contact really about the children's best interests? If the children do not talk to one parent on any given day, will the children question whether or not that parent loves them? Of course, not! If the children do not talk to one parent on any given day, with the children feel as though their parent missed out on learning about some pivotal life experience that occurred that day? The likely answer is no. So, then the question becomes whether this is about the parent's wishes rather than the children's best interests. Does the parent feel that if they do not have that nightly phone call that something horrible has happened to their child and they should call 911? Does the parent feel that if they do not have that nightly phone call that their children will forget about them? Children will forget they are loved? Children will feel abandoned? I would like to believe that none of the above are true.
The presenter asked the audience to think about what this daily, nightly phone call does to a child. Does this phone call give the child comfort or does it actually cause frustrating disruption? Even worse, does this phone call cause the child anxiety if they feel awkward talking to one parent at another parent's home. There are so many considerations when figuring out what is in the best interests of the minor children. I would urge parents to work hard to differentiate between what is truly in the best interests of the minor children and the parents' wishes. It isn't always easy to do so, but once you do, you can rest assured that you really made the positive choice to put your children first.