Sharing Parent-Time Travel Burdens Equally
There is no presumption in the Utah Code that the parents share the burdens of transporting the children between the parents’ homes for visitation (what is now called parent-time) or the exchange of joint custody. So how should those burdens be apportioned in a divorce or child custody case?
Utah Code § 30-3-33 (Advisory guidelines) provides, in pertinent part:
In addition to the parent-time schedules provided in Sections 30-3-35 and 30-3-35.5, the following advisory guidelines are suggested to govern all parent-time arrangements between parents.
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(4) The responsibility for the pick up, delivery, and return of the child shall be determined by the court when the parent-time order is entered, and may be changed at any time a subsequent modification is made to the parent-time order.
(5) If the noncustodial parent will be providing transportation, the custodial parent shall have the child ready for parent-time at the time the child is to be picked up and shall be present at the custodial home or shall make reasonable alternate arrangements to receive the child at the time the child is returned.
(6) If the custodial parent will be transporting the child, the noncustodial parent shall be at the appointed place at the time the noncustodial parent is to receive the child, and have the child ready to be picked up at the appointed time and place, or have made reasonable alternate arrangements for the custodial parent to pick up the child.
I submit that § 30-3-33(4) – (6) implies or suggest that, except in unusual circumstances, the parties are expected to share the burdens associated with parent-time. But it clearly does not mandate it.
§ 30-3-5(1) provides: “When a decree of divorce is rendered, the court may include in it equitable orders relating to the children, property, debts or obligations, and parties.” This broad provision allows the court to declare, even in interim orders, that a husband and wife, or mother and father, must share the burdens of parent-time travel equally.
Some men and women have the idea that, where they believe that one parent should incur all (or an unfair proportion) of the travel burdens associated with parent-time with the parties’ minor child is inherently unfair and inequitable. Except in unusual circumstances make sharing transportation equally feasible, both parents, whether exercising sole or joint physical custody, have a duty to be fair to the other parent when it comes to their child and parent-time. For example, if Mom drives the children to Dad’s house for father’s day parent-time, Dad should be considerate enough to drive the children back to Mom’s house when his parent-time is over. It does not matter if Mom is sole physical custodian, or if Dad is sole physical custodian, this is a matter of decency and fairness.
A traditionally “fair” sharing of travel-burdens example is one where one parent picks up the children at the commencement of parent-time, and the other parent picks them up at the conclusion of parent-time. Or, where one parent drops the children off at the commencement of parent-time, and the other parent drops the children off at the conclusion of parent-time. Each parent is responsible for one leg of the round trip. Such a situation requires that each person share the burden of parent-time equally, regardless of whether the parent is required to pick-up or deliver the minor child.
The foregoing example is not a perfect example of “sharing” the burdens of travel time equally between parents, since the situation may arise where Mom must drive the child(ren) to Dad’s house when his parent-time begins and then from Dad’s house when his parent-time concludes. Dad may not be able to drive, he may not reasonably have the time to drive (merely being “busy” is not enough to incur the time-cost of driving, as Mom has a right to be busy too), but he can still share the burden of travel time by paying for gas, plane tickets, or other expenses associated with parent-time.
This blog is not to chide a parent who, unaware of the typical and acceptable arrangements of parent-time, mistakenly demands that the other parent pick up the children and drop off the children at his/her house; however, I will certainly chide a parent who demands that one parent do all the driving without a very good, good-faith reason for such a demand.
There is an exception to sharing transportation that deserves attention. Utah Code § 30-3-33(15) provides:
(15) Parental care shall be presumed to be better care for the child than surrogate care and the court shall encourage the parties to cooperate in allowing the noncustodial parent, if willing and able to transport the children, to provide the child care. Child care arrangements existing during the marriage are preferred as are child care arrangements with nominal or no charge.
This provision is often called a “right of first refusal,” meaning, that before the children can be placed in surrogate care, the other parent must be notified so that he/she has the right to provide or refuse to provide that care instead of the surrogate care provider. The parties should not need to share the burdens of travel equally in the exercise of the right of first refusal (to provide care when one parent who would otherwise have court-ordered care/custody of the children is not available to provide personal care for the children). In such circumstances, the parent who wishes to exercise the right of first refusal should also have the burden of both picking up and dropping off the children.
Where the parties know their parent-time schedule and can and should easily coordinate the pick-ups and drop-offs associated with parent-time exchanges, it is inherently fair and equitable for the parties to share the burdens of travel time equally (i.e., where one parent picks up the children at the commencement of parent-time, the other parent shall pick the children up at the conclusion of parent-time; or where one parent drops the children off at the commencement of parent-time, the other parent drops the children off at the conclusion of parent-time; or reimbursing the parent who bears all the burdens of transportation for gas, plane tickets, or other expenses associated with parent-time.