Divorce is often a stressful process, particularly when children are involved. As parents navigate the legal and emotional complexities of separation, one crucial aspect that often weighs heavily on their minds is the custody of the children and their parenting time. For many individuals, being granted custody and securing more parenting time becomes a top priority as they strive to maintain strong and meaningful relationships with their children. A divorce can sometimes leave one parent feeling like they’re missing valuable time with their child (or children) — and you may become one of many parents wondering how to get more parenting time with your children after a divorce is final.
How to Get More Parenting Time After a Divorce
The divorce decree will include provisions as to who has custody of the children and each parent’s set time with them. It may be within the divorce decree itself or as a document called a “parenting plan” that is often attached to the divorce decree and becomes part of the divorce decree.
If things did not go your way in the divorce, you may feel like you’re legally forced to give up precious time with your children.
Here’s how to obtain more parenting time after a divorce, both legal and practical.
Examine Your Parenting Plan
The divorce decree or parenting plan should state with some specificity each parent’s time with the children. If a parent did not participate in the action, the Court may grant parenting time at the custodial parent’s discretion. If such is the case and the custodial parent won’t work with you, then your best option is often to put the case back before the Court to ask for a more specific time to be awarded. This is often done by filing a modification action with the Court to ask for more parenting time or custody.
Assuming your divorce decree or parenting plan grants you specific parenting time, be sure to exercise the time awarded to you. Be consistent and be on time. Whenever possible, accept any additional parenting time offered to you by the other parent. A judge may hesitate to grant you additional parenting time if you aren’t consistent with the parenting time that you’ve already been granted.
Sometimes parents forget about or miss additional parenting time already in their decree or parenting plan. If you’ve been granted vacation days or summer parenting time, be sure to use those days to get as much time with your children as the Court has granted you. There may be provisions that require you to give written notice to the other parent before you can exercise this parenting time. Don’t miss these notice deadlines. If you aren’t happy with the parenting plan as written, you should review and know your parenting plan inside and out so that you don’t miss any opportunity already granted to you. If you aren’t sure what some of the terms mean, meet with an attorney and go through the terms of the parenting plan in detail. You may already have rights to additional parenting time that you just didn’t understand how to exercise.
Communicate with the Other Parent
There is likely a good reason that you ended your relationship with the other parent. However, anything you can do to facilitate positive communication with the other parent will likely help you in the long run. Even if the other parent is difficult, be the bigger person. Be a good model to your children as to how to communicate and respond when there is conflict. You can’t change or control the other parent’s behavior. You are responsible for how you respond no matter how poor the other parent’s communication skills.
Divorce is often a stressful process. It is common for the tension to decrease relatively soon after the divorce is finalized. Use this opportunity to show your best side. If the other parent sees that you are willing to work with them, they may agree to give you more time. I know working with the other parent is easier said than done in some situations. However, be sure at least your side of the communication is positive if you want more time with your children.
Other Opportunities for Time with Your Children
Don’t forget that there are often opportunities to spend time with your children outside of your set parenting time. Depending on your situation, these may include:
- Attend your child’s games, practices, and performances. If your child is involved in sports, music, dance, or other activities, there are often opportunities to come and watch your child play or perform. When allowed, many parents stay and watch their child at some practices. It is rare for a Parenting Plan to prevent a parent from attending these practices, no matter which parent’s time they occur during. You may not have a lot of opportunity to chat with your child before and after practice if it is not your parenting day, but your child will see that you are there and supporting them. The caveat is to make sure your child wants you there. If there are a lot of hostilities between the parents, you don’t want your presence to distract your child or keep your child from enjoying their activity.
- Offer to provide a ride. If your child is very involved, a parent may spend a lot of time transporting the child to activities. If your schedule allows, offer to take to practices and activities, even during the other parent’s time. Even if the other parent doesn’t especially like you, they may be willing to let you take on some of these responsibilities. If you are consistent and on-time (and non-confrontational), you may have just created some consistent, additional time with your child. Plus, sometimes a child is especially willing to open up and chat on the drive to and from their practice or activity.
- Volunteer. Do you have time off during the school day and does your child’s school allow parents to volunteer? Do you have the skills to be able to act as an assistant coach to your child’s activity? Are there other ways you can volunteer your time to get more time with your child and/or show support for the things your child is interested in?
- Attend school functions. Almost every school has regular online updates or a weekly e-mail for parents to keep current on school events. Keep up-to-date on what is happening. Is there a musical performance or Field Day where you can watch your child perform? Is there a talent show that parents are invited to attend? Don’t miss out on these opportunities. Keep in the loop as to school functions.
Professional counseling can be a good idea for parents and children who have just undergone a divorce, even if the divorce was on relatively positive terms. There are many different forms of counseling available. Of course, there is counseling available for the child and parent individually. However, there is also counseling available that includes some sessions where the child and parent attend together. There are some therapists that offer counseling for the two parents to attend and sort out co-parenting issues. Be open to counseling if you want to increase your parenting time.
Modification of the Court Order
At least in Nebraska, most of the terms regarding property division are not modifiable after the divorce decree is entered. On the other hand, the terms regarding custody, parenting time, and support related to the child continue to be modifiable. If you are disappointed in the terms in your divorce decree, don’t worry. They aren’t permanent. It is common for a parent to be granted additional parenting time or even custody in a modification action. If you follow some of the practical tips above, you may increase your odds of the court granting you additional parenting time or even custody in a modification action.
For example, if it has become the routine that you take your child to their practices on a certain day of the week, it may not be hard to convince the Court in a modification action that it just makes sense for your child to start staying the night at your home on those days.
In Nebraska, you have to show that there has been a material change in circumstances since the Decree was entered and that a change in the custody/parenting time is in your child’s best interests. Having an idea why Judge didn’t grant you more time in the divorce can help you determine what changes you could make to increase your odds that the Judge will grant you additional time in a modification action. If your case went to trial, the Judge likely set forth some basis for the Judge’s ruling in the Decree. Whether you agree or disagree with these reasons, these are often strong indicators as to what changes you could try to make to get more parenting time.
If your case is settled, this may be harder to determine on your own. Talk with an attorney who will give you a realistic assessment as to whether enough has changed to have a good chance on a modification action now or alternatively, as to what changes you can make to increase your odds for a modification action in the future.
When you decide to file a modification action, keep in mind that it is a process. In Nebraska, the process is similar to the custody part of the case in the original divorce action. This includes filing the complaint, serving the other party, attending another co-parenting class, and attempting mediation again.
Talk to a Lawyer
As someone who understands the court system, lawyers are one of the best resources to help you get more parenting time. An attorney can help you determine if you are likely to be successful on a modification action and can help you move forward with the modification action when you are ready to proceed.
Law Office of Julie Fowler, PC, LLO | Divorce Lawyers Omaha
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If you are looking for an attorney in a child support case or divorce in Omaha, Nebraska, or the surrounding areas (including Papillion, Bellevue, Gretna, Elkhorn, Lincoln, Nebraska City, Sarpy, and Lancaster), contact our office to set up a consultation.