Access disputes – Tips from an experienced family lawyer

Access disputes

Access disputes in family law are very common and sometimes require the assistance of a family lawer to resolve.  This article will help parents who have recently separated decided what time-sharing arrangement will work best for their family.

Be flexible

Children’s access arrangements will often change over time.  As their school/extra-curricular activities change so will their access schedule.  Their age will also play a large role in how much time they spend with each parent.  Because these external factors play such a large role it is important that separated parents be flexible and understand that any arrangement that is reached will most likely be temporary.  Being flexible with access arrangements will reduce the amount of family conflict and improve your children’s long term outcomes.

Build a consensus

Effective access schedules are ones where both parties have voluntarily agreed that the schedule is the best one available for the children.  Sometimes the best way to accomplish this is to try both parent’s schedules and see which one works better.  If one parent wants week on week off and the other wants every second weekend and one night a week, you could try one during the school year and one during the summer.  It’s important for both parents to try the other’s “plan,” because you need both parents to buy-in in order to successfully implement the agreed upon access schedule.

Use the Arizona Access Guidelines  as a starting point

In Arizona they have a set template for child access based on experts general recommendations.  The guidelines can be found here.   If you are having difficulty deciding which access regime is best – start with what the guidelines recommend and build from there.  It can be helpful to have an objective third party suggest the starting routine where the trust between the two parents has been greatly diminished.

Stay Organized

Parents trying to figure out a decent access schedule should start with a two week map:

S  M  T  W  T  F  S

S  M  T  W  T  F  S

These diagrams help you to figure out who is where, and when.   There are also now web applications that are designed to help separated families co-ordinate between two households.  Try Our Family Wizard.  It is important for both parents to stay organized and understand their own responsibilities in order to avoid conflict.

Understand Your Alternative

If parents are unable to agree on an access schedule a court application may be required.  Typically the cost associated with a court application, case conference and motion would range in the $8,000 to $15,000 range.  The parents failure to build a consensus with respect to access means that a judge, who is a stranger to the family, will determine what is best for their children.  Judge’s will often ask for and rely on expert’s reports ($6,000 – over and above the costs noted above) in order to make their decision.  Judge’s placed in that situation may also give neither parent what they want;  in that scenario $30,000 to $40,000 of family money just went out the door and both parties are still at square 1 in terms of figuring out how to work together.  Certainly there are better uses for those funds.


A good family lawyer can be worth their weight in gold early on in a separation in terms of resolving conflict and helping a family adjust to their new reality.  More importantly, however, is the parent’s willingness to be flexible and to respect the other side’s perspective on what is best for the children.  By trying out a few different regimes parents can find what works best for the family as a whole and save thousands on expensive motions and experts.  If you are having a hard time finding the sweet spot in your family’s access dynamic you may want to book a one hour consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers.