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Parenting Plans and Court Proceedings: How Noncustodial Parents Can Get More Time with their Kids

I’m often asked to jump into a case because a noncustodial parent isn’t happy with how his/her present attorney is handling their case. To the parents, this is life itself. They aren’t seeing their children as much as they know they should, and they want it fixed now. To the attorney, it’s another sad or difficult case, and they often feel tehy are doing everything they can.

It’s hard to comment on the work of another professional in the middle of the battle. They are dealing with facts you don’t know, and they have their own skills and experience, just as you do.

I can comment on two things, though: (1) where I’m coming from myself as an advocate; and (2) how it contrasts with most good, local family law attorneys.

I’m a single parent myself. I have three beautiful daughters I’ve fought for continuously over the last six years. It’s why I do what I do now.

I’ve been through this. It taught me a few important lessons: as the parent, it’s you who has to engage the battle every day. You have to be willing to do extraordinary things, including having patience, but never giving up the fight. You have to truly walk the high road, higher than anyone will consider giving you credit for.

But you also need an advocate who sees a different end result than most do.

Typically attorneys get locked into a set of assumptions about the outcome of cases. It is very typical for an attorney to assume a long term outcome, i.e. one parent gets custody, the other parent gets some visitation. Unfortunately, the assumed outcome rarely works as conceived.

The problem is, non-custodial parents don’t have much control over the situation. The custodial parent can withhold that visitation, and unless the court will enforce your time with the children, it’s at the other parent’s discretion. And unless you have an attorney who will fight for that time, the court won’t enforce it.

Whatever you do, you need to lay out a plan for the court, ideally that creates a process to get you to joint (50-50), physical custody – or better put, equal parenting time. You cannot necessarily control the timetable – there are many factors that play into it – but the bottom line is you need a process, a plan, and you should continually be making progress toward equal parenting. Once you have equal parenting, then you show you are the parent who follows the schedule, cooperates, abides the court order. Let the other parent fight, disobey the order, and cause the problems – and document it. Ultimately, that is how you “get your kids back”, i.e. get custody of your kids.

It doesn’t matter who the attorney is, but this process needs to underlie the strategy for representing any noncustodial parent. Any other strategy assumes that you do not have equal rights as a parent, nor that your children have the right to the full and equal affection of both parents. The goal should always be to give the kids the full and equal attention of each parent. Then you, the parents become accountable for giving that to them. If the court will recognixe your rights, it is up to you to fully exercise them.

But until the court recognizes this, and until a lawyer will advocate for it, you may be locked out with no ability to give that to your kids.

There is no hustle here. If an attorney will lay this out for you and help you achieve it, great. There is no magic to this, it only takes the understanding of why it’s the right way to proceed and the work ethic to pursue it.

I decided to return to the practice of law and help in these kinds of situations, because most other attorneys just won’t. Truly, there aren’t a handful of attorneys in the country who will go to the trouble of laying a co-parenting plan before the court, and then working it. It upsets a system they have been working with for five, ten, 20, 30 years. Often they are afraid a judge will start ruling against them because suggest something out of the mainstream.

Full and equal parenting, like any other right, like any other responsibility, is something that has to be fought for. It won’t come without vigilance, diligence, persistence, patience – all of the virtues that have made each of the freedoms we enjoy so valuable.

But it also won’t come without effective advocacy. My aim is to provide and support that advocacy where and when I can.