You don’t want custody of your kids. What you really want is….
…parenting time. Or perhaps parental access, or maybe shared parenting rights. Depending on what state you live in, you might have noticed recently that many courts have stopped using the words “custody” and “visitation.” Instead, they’re now using more neutral terms such as “parenting time” or “shared parental responsibility.” Why?
For many years, the award of “custody” was regarded as a win-or-lose proposition. He or she who “got custody” won the case. Likewise, for many years, the idea of “visitation” was thought to be a lesser right, something less valuable than actual custody rights. A father who had visitation rights was sometimes viewed as an outsider – a mere “visitor.”
Sensitive to these concerns, many family courts now use other, more ambiguous terms that reflect each parent’s rights to the children, and more importantly, each child’s rights to each parent. For example, Pennsylvania refers to “partial custody” instead of visitation; New Jersey routinely uses the term “parenting time.”
Using these alternative terms is a good idea, especially when negotiating a settlement or mediating a custody dispute. Neutral terms such as “parenting time” remove the winner-takes-all mentality from the case. Even if one parent has more parenting time with the children, the time spent by that parent is not more valuable or more important than the other parent’s parenting time. Parenting time is exactly that – time to be a parent to the child – and the parent who exercises this right can be either the primary custodial parent or the secondary one.
Using ambiguous terms won’t work in every case. In same situations, it may be necessary to secure exclusive custody rights. Yet, where the parents are fighting over custody and visitation, the use of a neutral term may lower the heat and help the parents move toward an amicable settlement.