Parenting time guidelines usher in new state era


Marie E. Matyjaszek

After 20 years, Michigan has a new set of parenting time guidelines, drafted by the State Court Administrator’s Office, Friend of the Court Bureau, and the Michigan Supreme Court. It’s important for attorneys and parents to know that these are not the law, and instead provide an outline of what suggested parenting time should be for children of various ages in different circumstances. They are user-friendly and written so that an attorney or client understands what to expect.

The ages looked at are grouped in small increments so that the suggestions cover more than one age group. It provides parenting time outlines for birth to 12 months, 3 to 5 years, 5 to 10 years, 10 to 14 years, and 14 to 18 years of age. One consistent theme across all the age groups is a recommendation for overnight parenting time if both parents have provided the child’s day-to-day care. If primarily one parent cared for the child, the other should begin with limited parenting time that can increase gradually as the relationship between parent and child grows.

I really appreciate the fact that the guidelines provide information about typical child behavior in each age group, as well as suggestions as to how parents should communicate about their child’s needs and potential concerns. By focusing on what is “normal” at a certain age, it will alleviate concerns that behavior changes are strictly related to the parents’ separation or that the child only acts a certain way when they are with mom or dad. The truth is, many children behave in this manner regardless of their family dynamic, and it should not automatically lead a parent to believe something is “wrong” with parenting time.

For younger children, the guidelines suggest more frequent and shorter contact.  As the child gets older, parenting time increases to longer periods, and at least two overnights every two weeks for children ages 3 to 5. If the relationship between parent and child is not yet fully formed, transitions to increased parenting time are a good way to give everyone the necessary time to adjust.

Once the child enters school, schedules will likely have to adjust to accommodate the school day and transportation.  Transitions should be limited and splitting school break time should be taken into consideration.  As the children become pre-teens and teens, they will likely want to spend more time with friends, and both parents need to be cognizant of this fact and stay active in the children’s activities and friendships.  The older age groups do not need as much frequent contact with each parent to maintain the parent-child bond.

With COVID-19 and the constant increase in technology, the guidelines recognize that video chatting or virtual parenting time are real possibilities and should be utilized in appropriate cases.  It can improve the parent-child bond and decrease the stress of time between visits.

Because every case is unique (don’t believe that your case should turn out exactly like your neighbor’s case did), the authors provided suggestions and explanations for various types of family situations.  Domestic violence, long-distance relationships, reunification, and children and parents with special needs are just a few of the considerations that are discussed in the guideline. 

Blank calendars are provided, as well as examples of schedules that can be utilized for the parents to come up with their own parenting time ideas.  It contains a worksheet to write down specifics about the situation and provides a brief overview of what a parent can do to enforce parenting time through the court system, including the Friend of the Court.

Overall, I think the new guidelines are going to be extremely helpful to litigants representing themselves, attorneys, and the courts. The take-away is that this is not a “one size fits all” guideline, and you should always focus on what is best for your unique family.

(The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own. She can be reached by e-mailing her at 

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