In all cases of divorce or separation where children are involved, the issue of time-sharing (previously referred to as “visitation”) is a significant issue to be addressed.  Unless the parents have agreed to an equal shared custodial arrangement, an appropriate schedule of time-sharing is particularly important for all those involved: the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent, and the children.

Determining a schedule of time-sharing with the children is sometimes resolved between the parties. However, in those cases where the parties are unable to do so, the Court will order mediation in an attempt to resolve the issue. If the mediation is unsuccessful, the Court will (and has the authority to) determine the time-sharing schedule which will be binding on all involved.

Traditionally, time-sharing consisted of alternate weekend overnights for the non-custodial parent, a division of legal and religious holidays, extended time during the summer, and perhaps one evening per week for dinner. Recently, time-sharing schedules have become more flexible with non-custodial parents demanding (and receiving) more time with their children.  Busy work schedules for the parents and academic and activity schedules for the children demand a more fine-tuned approach to time-sharing.  

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When discussing this issue it is important for all involved to have an understanding of how it will work in real life.  Individuals who use terms that state “time-sharing shall be reasonable and liberal” or “as the parties may agree” find that disputes almost always arise in the future. Specificity as to which days and nights the children will be with which parent, times for pick-up and drop-off, birthdays and holidays all need to be included in the schedule together with an acknowledgment that flexibility in scheduling is in everyone's best interest.

Over the course of time as children become older or as parents relocate, there may need to be changes to the existing time-sharing schedule.  When the parties mutually agree to modify the existing time-sharing schedule, the revised schedule should always be in writing preferably in the form of a Court Order to ensure there are no misunderstandings in the future.  If the parties cannot agree to modify the existing time-sharing schedule, the matter is best handled by a Court-approved mediator before resorting to filing papers with the Court.

Family lawyers also confront the situation where there has been a refusal to comply with the existing time-sharing schedule or direct interference with the custodial rights of a parent. Interference can be anything that frustrates the parent’s right to spend meaningful time with their children.  New Jersey law provides remedies in the event the Court finds that there has been a frustration of, or interference with, the time-sharing schedule. The Court has a great deal of latitude to correct such a situation including, but not limited to: (a) ordering “make-up” parenting time; (b) requiring the parent who has interfered to pay any costs which may have resulted from the interference; (c) modifying the time-sharing schedule temporarily or permanently; (d) changing which parent shall be responsible for transporting the children for the scheduled time-sharing; or (e) requiring the parent who frustrates the time-sharing schedule to perform community service.  Judges are firm believers in compelling enforcement of Orders regarding the relationship between parent and child.

Lindabury’s Family Law Group has decades of experience representing clients in ensuring that parental rights are protected.  We provide the full range of divorce and family law services and are easily accessible from our Westfield, Summit or Red Bank New Jersey offices. Call James McGlew at 908-897-0055 or send an email to jmcglew@lindabury.com to schedule a consultation.