Following up on my previous article regarding the issue of custody, the issue of access is also one that I am regularly asked to define and explain. Access means the time that children spend with the parent who is not their primary caregiver, typically away from their primary residence. Access is accordingly only an applicable term in parenting scenarios involving sole custody, joint custody, or split custody. Generally, there is no access in shared custody scenarios because the children spend equal amounts of time with each parent based on a fixed schedule.
There are endless options as far as what access can consist of. The spectrum ranges from very open and flexible access that occurs frequently and is arranged directly between the parents based on their respective schedules and the schedules of the children (i.e., what we refer to as reasonable and generous access) to very specific access, including dates and times, which may even need to be supervised (i.e., what we refer to as specified, supervised access). The former scenario is typically recommended for more amicable parenting arrangements, in which the parties are able to communicate effectively. The latter is generally only utilized in cases where there are legitimate safety concerns for the children while in the care of the access parent.
I have found in my practice that what works best for individual cases varies significantly from family to family. Some parties require a very clear and specific access schedule in order to minimize conflict, whereas other parties enjoy the flexibility of being able to set their own schedule. I have also been involved with many matters where the parties include some degree of specificity, as well as an element of flexibility in their parenting plans, such as specified minimums with an ability to add such additional access as the parties may agree upon.
If parents are unable to agree on their own access arrangement, the Court can be called upon to make the decision for them based upon what is determined to be in the best interests of the children, which is always the primary consideration for any parenting issue that needs to be adjudicated. Generally, barring exceptional circumstances, the Court will strive to achieve maximum contact between the children and both parents.
If you need specific advice on what might be an appropriate access scenario or parenting plan for your individual circumstances, please contact myself or one of our knowledgeable family law practitioners for a consultation.