by Kaylee Logeston, Esq.

So long as safety concerns are not at issue, I think everyone can agree that it is important for a child to spend time with both of their parents. It sounds simple, but divorced or separated parenting situations can make this difficult. Emotions and strong disagreements that pit one parent against the other can impact the time that each parent spends with their child and, in turn, affect parent-child relationships.

Allocating parenting time in shared parenting situations is not always black- and-white, but the right of first refusal can help make this easier. Having a child custody agreement that includes a provision such as the right of first refusal can help to manage the time that kids spend with each parent.

When does it apply?

In custody cases, the right of first refusal means that the custodial parent must first offer the other parent the opportunity to look after their children before contacting a babysitter (or another family member) to care for the kids.

When it applies – Right of first refusal typically applies to both planned as well as last-minute situations. For example, if a parent makes plans for a night out with friends months or even hours before the event, they must offer the other parent the option to care for their children before making any other arrangements. If the other parent decides not to take the kids during this time, then the right of first refusal has been satisfied and a third-party caretaker such as a friend, babysitter, or another family member may be asked to care for the children instead. Right of first refusal may also apply to situations such as doctor’s appointments, vacations, and after-school daycare.

When it does not apply – Right of first refusal does not apply when the custodial parent does not have plans (such as a trip out of town or doctor’s appointment), but instead elects to let their child spend time with family.

Pros and Cons

Not only does it help guide parents in managing custody, right of first refusal helps each parent have as much time as possible with their children. It also encourages flexibility of parenting time while also supporting communication between parents.

While a right of first refusal clause can prove to be a great benefit to parents, it is not without its potential pitfalls. Parents who already struggle to communicate may find it difficult to request parenting time changes between one another. Moreover, the way in which parents communicate these requests can affect how successful they are.

A long email or vague text message might not be a sufficient method of handling parenting time exchange requests, especially if that kind of communication is not working well across the board.

Avoiding Conflict Using Right of First Refusal

Right of first refusal helps parents spend more time with their children, but a lack of communication can make it difficult. Whenever possible, it is best for co- parents to keep each other informed of any plans that call for adjustments to be made to the family’s normal parenting schedule. Providing as much notice as possible will help reduce issues. Along with ample notice, giving explicit details about the requested change in parenting time is key to making right of first refusal work.

Communication is key

Make sure to contact the attorneys at the Birmingham Men’s Law firm with any questions you may have about a custody agreements and right of first refusal. As always, your initial consultation is free of charge.