Increasingly Lex Familia is confronted with visitation schedules that are almost impossible to accomplish. Parents have children enrolled in so many activities, it is difficult to find time for the child to spend with the non-residential parent. Should a child be allowed to participate in activities if they interfere with the the non-residential parent’s time with the child? There is no easy solution to this dilemma.
How should a court respond when the time-slighted parent objects? To be certain, it would be unfortunate to deny a child of divorce access to activities available to a child of an intact family. However, a child from an intact household presumably sees more of both parents and the need for uninterrupted time is less crucial. Perhaps, like in so many instances in the law, the courts need to use a balancing test. But what factors should be weighed? Perhaps the court could consider the child’s aptitude at a given activity versus the benefits of time with the non-residential parent. For example, are circumstances different if the child is a superstar baseball player with potential to be a pro, versus an average player that will be lucky to make the high school varsity squad? Should the social benefits of participation be weighed against the benefits of additional parenting time? Also the court can consider the quality of parenting of the non-residential parent. It should matter that the child sits in front of a television during visitation rather than being actively engaged with the parent.
The over-involvement of children is a symptom of modern society. It is not limited to children of divorce. Children today have very little time to goof off or even daydream. While children clearly benefit from participation in organized activities, Lex wonders if sometimes they are fulfilling certain dreams their parents did not get to realize. Indeed, in this instance, forcing children into the activity is exploitation and should not be tolerated as a basis to limit visitation. But, where the child is genuinely interested in an activity and has aptitude, do the benefits of participation outweigh the missed time with the non-residential parent?
Years ago, Lex was involved in a case where the child wanted to go to a football camp that would deprive the non-residential parent of a large amount of his summer visitation time. He objected and it went before the judge. The child attended the hearing and begged the judge for permission to go. She listened to the boy’s pleas and simply said, “Young man, you may not understand this today, but perhaps someday you’ll appreciate this comment. Nobody has ever laid upon their death bed and said ‘I wish I had more opportunities to go to football camp.’ But there have been countless people laying there that have wished they had more time to spend with their parents or other people they loved.” The boy went with his father instead of football camp.
Indeed, life is short. When is too much too much?