Eric Solotoff, a certified matrimonial lawyer based in Roseland, New Jersey, recently featured an article from the Daily Record surrounding a post-decree parenting time dispute between a mother and father. Here’s how ugly (and downright silly) things can get sometimes:

Ruling against a divorced father’s wish that his daughter help him celebrate his birthday, a judge in Morristown Thursday said the child should have the rare chance to spend that time as a bridesmaid at her godmother’s wedding.

Mother Cortney Hooper of Dover took her ex-husband, Steven Miller, to Superior Court to have a judge decide how their 10-year-old daughter should spend Friday night, even though it encroaches on Miller’s visitation time.

Though Miller and his lawyer, Jamie Berger, argued that this weekend belonged to Miller and that his family planned a Friday night celebration for his 35th birthday, Superior Court Judge Mary Gibbons Whipple said she believed the little girl should have the experience of wearing a special dress and shoes and eating the cake and hearing wedding music.

Saying she didn’t mean to diminish the importance of a child celebrating a birthday with a party, Whipple nonetheless said the wedding experience — and accompanying her bridesmaid mother down the aisle — would be unforgettable for a little girl.

Addressing Miller directly, the judge asked: “Do you really want to say ‘no dress, no cake, no wedding, no bridesmaid, no band? You have to go to my birthday party.’ Do you really want to take that away from her?”

Miller said he hadn’t asked his daughter her preference, but that his time with her is precious and his family will be heartbroken that she won’t be present at his party. Miller did get to see his daughter on his actual birthday, April 7, but the party was planned for Friday.

“A birthday party happens every year. A wedding is once-in-a-lifetime,” Whipple said.

Read Solotoff’s post here. Find the full article cited by Solotoff here. The more entertaining part of this are the comments read by paper readers. Find them here.

What do you think?

Appears to me neither the mother, nor the father, hold all the blame. The lawyers representing them at the time of the divorce should have put language in their divorce decree to cover such a situation – especially if, as it seems, it was a high conflict case.

In the cases we handle, we include specific provisions relating to special days (such as holidays, birthdays and family events) that a child may experience. We also build in a hierarchy so there is no question about whose parenting time trumps whose. For example, “life events,” such as a wedding or funeral, take priority over birthdays. Birthdays and holidays take priority over vacation time. Vacation time takes priority over routine access time. Cut and dry.

Of course, the pessimist will ask, “What if you have a funeral and a wedding on the day?” Our clients typically agree to language that requires them to defer to a parenting time expeditor. A parenting time expeditor is a neutral professional who is given authority by the court, and parties, to make parenting time decisions that are consistent with a divorce decree. If either party dislikes the decision, they have a right to appeal to the district court.

The Minnesota statute concerning the appointment of a parenting time expeditor may be found here.

Here are some key things to keep in mind about parenting time expeditors:

  • Parenting time expeditors are not required to be utilized, but courts strongly encourage them.
  • The benefits in using a parenting time expeditor include prompt attention to a particular conflict (immediate, instead of six weeks, or more, to see a judge) and the avoidance of attorney’s fees and court costs.
  • Parenting time expeditors are usually an experienced matrimonial lawyer or former social worker or custody evaluator.
  • The parties usually split the cost associated with the expeditor, and give the expeditor the authority to allocate costs based upon the reasonableness of the parties to a particular dispute.
  • Parenting time expeditors have their own special retainer agreements and will often require a retainer fee placed into a trust account in order to render services.

Even if the parties haven’t agreed to use a parenting time expeditor, or have agreed but haven’t named one in their divorce decree, some of the best expeditors our clients have worked with include: Kim Brandell, Andrea Niemi, Carol Vander Kooi and Elizabeth Shading. Each have a little different style and are worth considering.