Winter has arrived in full force and we have seen our first snow days of the season. Surprisingly, we have also had quite a few questions about problems with child custody exchanges resulting from these snow days, so we thought we would share our responses with you.
Few Parenting Plans explicitly mention snow days, principally because they fit naturally into the regular school schedule. All Parenting Plans state that one parent after a physical custody period returns the child to school or at a particular time (usually 8:00 a.m. or 4:00 p.m.) to the other parent when school is not in session. So, in case of a snow day, if the child would normally have returned to school that day, the child should instead go back to the other parent.
Circumstances may make such an exchange difficult or even dangerous given the weather conditions. In that situation, the parent currently with the child would communicate with the other parent about road conditions and determine when it would be safe to make the exchange. Parents must deal honestly with each other in these situations and not use inclement weather as an excuse to extend custody or keep the other parent from exercising his or her regular custodial time.
Snow days often mean that childcare options may be foreclosed for the day as well. If that happens, the parents should communicate with one another and coordinate care for the child. Again, if the weather is treacherous, the child should remain where he or she is. If the weather allows a transfer but one or both parents need to go to work, the parents should discuss how to share custody for that day best to accommodate each other’s needs concerning work and also to assure the child has sufficient care. We suggest parents have a prearranged plan in these situations – a particular daycare provider in case of such emergencies, or perhaps a relative (like a grandparent) who could watch the child if both parents need to work.
While kids usually love a snow day because they do not have to go to school and may get to play outside and go sledding or build a snowman, for kids operating under a custody order, snow days can become another source of tension or drama. A parent should resist the temptation to use a snow day to infringe on the custodial rights of the other parent. The best interests of the child always require compliance with the Parenting Plan unless it would be dangerous or impossible to do so because of the weather. All parents should understand that if they unreasonably keep the child, the parent denied custody could file a Family Access Motion for compensatory custodial time, or even a Motion for Contempt. It would be simpler for all involved, especially the child, to use common sense and put the child first.
In summary, the following factors should be considered:
- Can either parent work from home either for the full day or a few hours?
- If the roads are safe, can the parents split the day?
- Are the children old enough to spend time by themselves?
- Is there a neighbor who can babysit for a few hours?
- Can you call a relative or a friend for a favor to help?
- Going forward, how can you alternate days off so one parent doesn’t use precious vacation and personal time?
- How do you want to make up the missed parenting time and work?
- If you cannot agree, remember that snow days are treated like normal days.
- Communicate about the weather and be flexible.
- Don’t use the bad weather as an excuse to extend your physical custody time.
- Work out who will look after the kids ahead of time if possible.
- Cooperate with your coparent.
Ultimately, the care of the children has to be the responsibility of the parent on duty the morning that the snow emergency arises. Both parents should make every effort to communicate plans and work together. The most important thing is the care and safekeeping of your children. Even though it might not be your parenting time, if your boss is more flexible and allows telecommuting, then offer for the kids to spend the day with you. I always stress to my clients the importance of working through these issues as amicably as possible. It is in the best interest of your sanity and your children.
Should you need the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney or child custody attorney in Creve Coeur and O’Fallon or have questions about your divorce or child custody situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those questions with you.