One of the more challenging issues in a divorce is developing a parenting plan that involves non-custodial parent access on school nights. For some children, it can be disruptive to schoolwork and performance. For other children, it is inconsequential. In the unpublished case of M.C. v. P.C. (FM-15-1352-14, Ocean County), the court sets forth some guidelines for parents to consider regarding this issue:
- A parenting schedule between divorced parents must reasonably consider a child’s best interests, including educational interests, and must account for each party’s responsibility to dutifully
oversee their child’s academic obligations and schedule;
- A non-custodial parent’s request for mid-week, overnight parenting time is not per se contrary to a child’s best interests, particularly when the non-custodial parent lives reasonably close to the
other parent and the child’s school. Such a mid-week overnight arrangement, however, generally and implicitly carries ongoing duties and obligations on the part of the non-custodial parent to oversee the child’s ongoing educational responsibilities for the next day’s school session during such parenting time, including as applicable, attendance to homework assignments, preparation for tests and quizzes scheduled for the following school day, general studies, and a reasonable bedtime as well;
- If and when competent evidence, beyond mere speculation or conjecture, persuasively reflects that a midweek overnight parenting schedule is becoming unduly obstructive of a child’s ongoing classroom performance and/or scholastic responsibilities at home, a court may in its discretion consider modifying the schedule in a child’s best educational interests; the court, however, will not modify same based upon generalized or speculative assumptions about midweek overnight parenting time, but upon a showing of persuasive evidence that such a schedule, is, in a particular case, contrary to a child’s interests.
The court also set forth a protocol for the parents to follow:
Before the situation grows further out of control, there is a need to establish an ongoing protocol which clarifies the fact (a) both parties as parents must take responsibility for overseeing the children’s completion of their homework, and (b) both parties as joint custodians are obligated to communicate with each other in a manner which bolsters greater accountability of each parent, while
significantly reducing the chances that the children will go to school unprepared or underprepared in the future. The protocol includes the following steps:
- First, the parties will jointly request in writing that the children’s teachers advise them jointly in writing, via email if there is any significant observations or concern regarding a child being fully prepared for class on any day, including homework completion, test preparation and performance, and in-class alertness;
- Regarding homework, it is defendant’s affirmative obligation during his overnight parenting time to make certain that all of the children’s homework, including assignments and readiness for any scheduled tests the next day, are complete. In the event that there are any incomplete assignments, defendant has an affirmative obligation to notify plaintiff by email by the children’s
bedtime on that evening as to what assignments have not been completed by the children and the reasons they were unable to complete same. This way, in exceptional circumstances requiring plaintiff to intervene the following morning before school to help the children complete any incomplete or missing assignments, plaintiff will at least have some reasonable advance notice of the
- If plaintiff alleges that homework has not been completed and that she has to prepare children on the morning of school due to defendant’s alleged failure to oversee the children’s scholastic responsibilities, then to the extent possible she shall document any and all missing or incomplete assignments as well as any work which she had to do with the children on such days, and she
will forward copies of this information to defendant within 5 days thereafter with scanned attachments as applicable, so that an ongoing record of any such problems is in the possession of both parties, and so evidence of such documentation may be supplied to the court as necessary upon further application.
- If missing or incomplete homework or inadequate test preparation by the children remains an ongoing issue of concern, then the parties may schedule a joint meeting with any of the children’s applicable teachers to discuss same. Any such discussions, however, shall take place in a manner where both parties treat each other with dignity in a mutually respectful, mature, and courteous manner, with an understanding that such civility between parents is overwhelmingly in their children’s best interests. Further, either party may file further applications as necessary to address any ongoing disputes of significance regarding the children’s educational progress and development.
What the court is saying, in a nutshell, is that the parents have a joint obligation to ensure the child’s education is not being neglected due to the parenting arrangement. If the parents cannot, the court will step in for the best interests of the children.