A Universal Family Law Problem
Parents sometimes come to me stressed because the other parent would not allow the child to go with them for visitation because they were a few minutes late to pick up the child. In my 11 years handling family law questions, I see this issue rise very frequently. And sometimes, the concern is from the custodial parent, who is tired that the other parent constantly shows up late for exchanges.
Have Some Grace
First, remember that most family court judges expect that parents be reasonable and show a little bit of grace to each other when handling exchanges. Most court orders cannot account for or address every single unforeseen dilemma that might arise. Traffic happens, and so do plenty of other accidents, such as medical emergencies or misunderstandings in calendars that may cause one parent to show up late to pick up a child. Each parent should give the benefit of the doubt to the other on timeliness, especially if the tardiness is infrequent. One never knows when they will be the one who is running a little late. Should a parent lose their entire weekend with their child because they were a few minutes late by accident? Of course not. But the late parent should try to keep it from happening.
Some suggestions for the parent who is going to be late are:
- Message the other parent you’re running behind and give them your estimated time of arrival. Calling ahead shows them you have respect for their time.
- If your court order permits it, send a responsible third adult agent to pick up the child. This should be someone that both the other parent and the child know.
- Forgo the scheduled pickup and offer to exchange the visitation for a future date.
- Offer to give the other parent make-up time to address the inconvenience to them.
- If it makes sense, agree on a confirmation deadline, maybe 12 or 24 hours in advance, where you will confirm whether or not you will exercise the scheduled exchange, so the other parent is not left wondering if you’ll show up late or not at all.
- If the untimeliness keeps happening, talk with the other parent and agree to push back the pickups and dropoffs. To reduce the chances either parent will go back on their word, consider memorializing it in an updated court order. This could be done through a mediation sit-down and submitting to the court an agreed modification order.
When You Cannot Agree
If the two parents do not see eye-to-eye, or the tardiness issue is causing a serious problem such as where one parent is threatening an enforcement lawsuit against the other, then consider hiring an attorney to modify the court order so that the exchange times are modified by a court. Being late constantly may be grounds to modify the order against you. Take the initiative and get the order updated to account for the *legitimate* reasons you’re constantly late.