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How to navigate last-minute parenting time changes

The adage “life happens,” is common for a reason. We cannot always control what happens in our lives, and we often have to adjust to changes as they come.

Many co-parents establish a routine parenting schedule that meets their needs in their custody agreement and/or parenting plan approved by North Carolina family courts. However, when “life happens,” parents might have to make last-minute changes to the parenting schedule. When families rely on a specific parenting schedule, dealing with these changes might be more stressful.

Here are a few tips for parents when they are faced with last-minute changes to their parenting time.

First, watch your reaction

If the other parent calls about a last-minute change and they either cannot pick up or drop off the kids, parents must control their emotions. It is only natural for parents to get upset and defensive if things do not go according to plan, especially when it comes to the precious time they have with their children.

However, if parents let negative emotions control their reaction to last-minute changes, they might needlessly escalate an already stressful situation.

Communicate to reschedule and make up the lost parenting time

Parents should try to work together to find out when and how they can make up for the lost parenting time as soon as possible.

For example, if an emergency led the children to spend an extra day with one parent, then they can negotiate to make the next custody exchange with the other parent a day later to make up for it.

Make a rescheduling strategy

If there is no strategy in place before an emergency change interferes with the usual parenting schedule, then parents should be sure to create a plan for how they will approach changes like this in the future.

It is helpful for these guidelines to include:

  • A rule that parents will give each other as much warning as possible about schedule changes;
  • A list determining what issues warrant rescheduling, such as work issues or other emergencies;
  • How parents will tell their children about last-minute changes since children rely on the consistency of the parenting schedule as well; and
  • How they will reschedule parenting time fairly and efficiently.

Parents should try not to make rescheduling parenting time a habit. It can create undue stress on the entire family. It might even lead one parent to request a modification to the entire custody agreement.

However, having a plan in place can help manage rescheduling effectively.