If you’ve been through a divorce or child custody proceeding the words parenting time probably has a strong meaning for you. Even if you and your ex-partner have an agreement on parenting time that lays out when and how long each parent can see your child or children, it may be difficult at times to abide by the terms in everyday life. 

No matter how much time you’re granted as part of your child custody agreement, there may be times when something happens that prevents you from getting the children to their other parent on time. Traffic, bad weather, oversleeping – life happens. 

If you’re thinking about intentionally keeping your children for longer than the terms of your agreement you should, say for an extended vacation or to be able to spend a holiday with them, you should be aware of the consequences that could come along with those actions. 

What is parenting time?

Parenting time is just that – time for parents. When a couple decides to part ways, whether married or not, each parent is designated a certain allotted time alone with the kids, known as parenting time.

More commonly referred to as a parenting plan, a schedule is created breaking down weekdays, weekends, holidays, birthdays, summer breaks and other special occasions that each parent gets with the kids. Whether it’s a two-hour weeknight dinner or a two-week vacation at the beach, if it’s outlined in the plan, then that’s parenting time.

Who makes the parenting time plan?

Both parents, if they want to be, are part of the parenting time plan. Even if you’re not on the best of terms with your child or children’s other parent, this plan should be made amicably if possible, putting the needs of the children first. Parenting plans should be made with an understanding that as the children grow and schedules change, the parenting plan will eventually need to grow and change as well.

This might sound easy, but the circumstances surrounding break-ups can cause emotional tensions to run high, and those tensions may result in one party being a bit difficult to negotiate with. Unfortunately, those tensions can extend beyond the break-up, which is where concerns about tardiness come in. As family law lawyers, it’s not uncommon for us to get calls from clients when their ex-partner doesn’t return the children at the correct specified time. 

What happens if I’m late in dropping off my child or children?

Trust us, it’s going to happen over the life of your child or children. Whether it’s bumper to bumper traffic during Friday night drop-offs, flat tires on the highway or completely losing track of time watching the Super Bowl, at some point or another you’re going to end up bringing the kids back later than you’re scheduled to.

What happens then? You shouldn’t expect to hear sirens behind you when you finally pull up to the curb for drop-off if you’re late. 

What you should expect depends entirely on the relationship you have with your co-parent. If you’re in a healthy co-parenting relationship, then it likely won’t be an issue at all as they’ll understand things come up. If you have a difficult co-parenting relationship, your child or children’s other parent can make things difficult, especially depending on how late you were. 

Are there consequences?

Many parents are curious if they can find themselves in some sort of legal or criminal trouble if they don’t bring the kids back on time. 

Can my co-parent deny me access to my kids when my next scheduled time comes around?

Can they take me back to court?

Will I be arrested or taken to jail if I keep my children too long?

All good questions. However, unless you’ve broken the law by bringing your child or children to another state or country or if it is a rare occurrence that you are late then it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself at the courthouse. Be careful though –  unlikely doesn’t mean impossible, especially if the other parent is unreasonable.

Parenting time and New Jersey law

In New Jersey, if one parent feels that the parenting plan is being violated on a regular basis, they have the right to ask the Court to intervene. And they may be justified in doing so.

It’s one thing to get stuck in traffic once in a while, but habitual tardiness with no just cause sends the message that you have no regard for the other parent’s life and schedule. As a result, you begin interfering with their time with the kids which can be viewed as justifiable cause to bring the issue to a lawyer or to a courtroom. 

What can I do if my child or children are always being returned late?

If your co-parent is threatening or has already initiated litigation against you due to consistent violations of the parenting plan or if you’re experiencing frustration at delayed drop-offs, there is still time to find a solution without going through a lengthy and costly court proceeding.

Our experienced attorneys can provide alternatives to litigation which will get you to the same destination. In most cases, making some mutual adjustments to the existing parenting plan is all that it takes (then followed up by conscious efforts to follow it).

Sometimes it’s not a judge you need, just a third party to help find neutral ground between you and your co-parent to establish a parenting plan that everyone can stick to. Contact us today to see how our experienced lawyers can help. 

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