Why is it important to make the most of your Arizona parenting time? Parenting time is time actually spent with the child. With a divorce or pending child custody case, every hour a parent spends with the child is something for the court to consider in determining both legal decision-making and parenting time.
As part of a parenting plan, each parent’s access to the child is scheduled. Arizona parenting time varies considerably from one parenting plan to the next, depending upon the family’s needs. A traditional schedule, for example, might be with Dad every other weekend and after-school on Wednesdays. Under Arizona’s flexible co-parenting model, a child may spend substantially equal time at each parent’s residence. Overnights may be during the week, on the weekend, or rotate weekends one month, weekdays the next. Any combination of overnights is possible with a well-planned parenting time schedule.
Always consult a child custody attorney who can explain why a parent’s history of caregiving, decision-making, and support for a son or daughter, along with the status quo child care arrangement, can be very influential with the child custody evaluator and the judge. For instance, many judges will continue the status quo custody arrangement if it is in the child’s best interests and is working well for the child.
Given the scrutiny parents are under during child custody proceedings, putting one’s best foot forward, and doing so very early on, can yield positive results for both parent and child. One of the biggest mistakes some clients make is being caught unprepared for parenting time with the kids. Planning is key.
Here are some of the ways you can make the most of Arizona parenting time and maximize each hour spent with your child.
Be Intentional with Every Hour
To get the most from your parenting time, always try to be intentional with the time you spend with your child. Being intentional is about engaging in meaningful activities. For instance, a meaningful activity might be taking your 5-year-old to the zoo for the first time, a memorable event for you both.
Being intentional with parenting time and arranging for meaningful activities takes some preparation. Be creative, yet flexible, with your list of possible activities for any given week. Best to have a contingency plan, too. If the child is not feeling well and should stay home, then a contingency plan to stream a movie, play a favorite board game, or read a few children’s books is just fine.
All too often, parents are caught unprepared for parenting time and default to whatever is easiest at the moment. With no structure to their time together, parent and child may spend the weekend doing their own thing, gaming non-stop, eating fast food, or being bored and frustrated with little communication.
Build a Relationship During Parenting Time
Building a relationship with your son or daughter is at the heart of parenting time. Every week provides opportunities to build strong emotional ties with your child. Strong bonds, fond memories, useful lessons learned – all of these will last the child’s lifetime (and yours).
When a parent is intentional with Arizona parenting time and does some planning, seldom do the hours together simply slip away. Life will always offer distractions, especially if the divorce is ongoing. Stay focused on the child’s needs. During parenting time, be your child’s guide, leader, confidant, teacher, and mentor. As your child grows up, the relationship you share will mature and develop too.
Strike a Balance Between Homework and Play
During parenting time, be sure to strike a balance between your child’s school responsibilities and recreation time. Both homework and play are important to child development. Divorce does not alter that fact, but it can cause parents to swing too far one way or the other.
Adult responsibilities include ensuring school lessons are finished on time and constructively. Balance the time allotted for recreational activities with that allotted for homework and class projects. Sometimes schoolwork takes longer than anticipated, sometimes it goes very quickly. Be flexible. A parent does the child no favors in the long run by stealing homework time for pure play time. This is a mistake many parents make. They want to be the fun parent, not the disciplinary parent.
Balancing playtime with homework is part of being a responsible parent. If you are consistent with scheduling, your child will come to respect the homework rules with minimal resistance. Start out on the right foot and stand firm when you need to.
Consider the other parent’s position in this, too. Don’t make him or her the sole “enforcer” of homework time. Don’t risk slipping grades because neither parent is enforcing homework rules on the child during parenting time. How well a child is performing in school is a factor for the court to consider in determining child custody. By returning the child to the other parent after yet another “fun only” weekend of play, without having set aside homework time, then you are not parenting in the best interests of your child.
Making the most of Arizona parenting time includes making your home your child’s home, too. If you moved out of the marital home in Phoenix and have a new place in Scottsdale, for example, then open your new home to your child.
As you may recall from the Arizona Parent Information Program, divorce can be very difficult for children. One important way to make sure that your child feels safe and secure is to provide a room or special area in your new home. Children of divorce need to have some sense of control over life and take comfort in knowing their personal things will be where they left them when they get back.
Generally, a child of divorce will adjust more quickly to having two families when he or she has a special place in both households. Making a private space for your child is not that difficult to do. Take a moment to look through the eyes of a child and design an age-appropriate environment. If your new apartment is small, then designing a kid zone may be more challenging, but far from impossible. Here are a few tips on how that can be accomplished:
Moving into a new home is an exciting event, for everyone. Think about how you are going to designate kids’ space before you sign a lease or purchase a house. Even if your child stays two nights a week, every other week, it is essential that he or she have claim to “my bedroom at Dad’s” or “my room at Mom’s.”
With so much change going on in your own life, it’s possible that your child’s things are still relegated to a stack of laundry baskets in the room or boxes in the hall closet. If that is the case, then you need to make some changes right away. You don’t want your child feeling like an afterthought or a burden to your new single life. As for the judge, a parent’s failure to provide reasonable accommodations for the child during parenting time does not reflect well.
Older children, in particular, need to have a separate bedroom if at all possible. Young children don’t always want to be alone in a room, it may increase a sense of isolation. For some families, the best arrangement is to have children double-up and share quarters, girls in one bedroom, boys in another. Kids who share a room still need private space, though. If sharing a room, let your child claim “my desk,” “my side of the closet,” and “my half of the dresser.” Explain to both children the importance of respecting each other’s privacy and personal space while sharing a room together.
Another way to help give your child a sense of belonging and control in your new home is to designate a kids’ zone in the room or living room. A cozy corner with child-sized furnishings, soft cushions, blankets, pillows, books, and toys can be a wonderful thing.
Helping your child adjust to your new residence doesn’t stop at the front door either. Make time to socialize and introduce your son or daughter to other kids in the neighborhood. Soon parenting time will be less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.
Allow for Unstructured Time to Relax and Just Talk
Balance is so important with Arizona parenting time. Every hour does not need to be activity-packed to be quality time. Sometimes just lazing around the house after an eventful day can result in the most meaningful conversations. Life is good when parent and child are both relaxed and casual, when there is no immediate pressure to do something, go somewhere, or get ready for someone. This is priceless unstructured parenting time. And when it’s time to drive your child back to the other parent, settle in and enjoy the ride — it could be the best time for the two of you to just talk.
Divorce and child custody proceedings will change many things, but the one thing it will not change is your being a parent. Scheduling Arizona parenting time as part of a parenting plan will be no small effort. But once that schedule is in place, whether under temporary orders or a permanent parenting plan, do everything possible to make the most of your Arizona parenting time. When you have questions about child custody, legal decision-making, parenting time, or parenting plans, consult an experienced family lawyer with Stewart Law Group at 602-548-3400.