[Consult with a family law attorney in your state; I am not an attorney]
As an airline pilot who has gone through the family court system too many years to remember, I’m asked frequently what custody arrangements should be used from fellow divorcing airline pilots.
The answer initially depends on how far the pilot lives from his children. If the pilot lives more than an hour’s drive or so away, alternating weekend possessions don’t work. Instead, request the ability to choose two weekends per month in your decree.
If the pilot lives in the area of the children, however, then approximately 50% of the time the children should be legally allowed to be with him or her.
The problem is our irregular schedules, and getting the legal system to understand how they interfere with seeing our kids if a standard visitation template is given to us. Most judges really don’t understand the changing schedules of pilots, firefighters, police officers, doctors, etc. They’d prefer to just approve a standard visitation template to make their jobs easier. This is where you need to find an attorney who understands variable possession orders, or airline employee possession orders (each state has its own name for it).
As an airline pilot, you’re aware that there are rare flying jobs with a typical 8am to 5pm schedule that most workers have. So a standard visitation order of alternating weekends (first, third, and fifth weekends typically) or weeks will not work for the vast majority of pilots.
So this is what you need: a variable possession order based around the airline pilot parent’s schedule. The alternative is severely diminished time between you and your kids.
The best way to go about this is to hire a family law attorney who’s familiar with these types of custody arrangements. This is critical. If he or she is board certified, all the better. If you don’t hire a family lawyer, your lawyer’s lack of knowledge in this area could result in a decision by the judge that steers towards the default standard possession order.
Once you hire an attorney, help him or her draft the language in an order to best enable you to see your kids on your off days. Many attorneys don’t understand the kind of schedules we have. This is your decree and your kids, so take an active part in making sure the language doesn’t hurt your ability to see them.
The important point is this: you and your attorney should demand a decree that offers possession of your kids on all or most of your days off, up to a maximum of 15 days per month. 50/50 physical custody, or as close as possible.
Seeing both parents equally, or as close to it as possible, is clearly in the best interest of your children— a standard used by every state. Don’t expect your ex to agree to this, however. There are many, many ex’s who will try to limit your ability to be with your kids.
Typical (weak) objections by the other parent to variable possession orders:
- ‘disrupts’ the child
- ‘disrupts’ the child’s activities
- inability for other parent to plan months out
- unstable for the child
- child doesn’t want it
Some sample language for your decree, or as arguments to opposing counsel [Consult with a family law attorney in your state; I am not an attorney. Many family law attorneys will, in fact, find the below helpful]:
- We request a variable possession order based on father’s employment as an airline pilot for __________.
- The variable nature of Mr. Smith’s schedule as an airline pilot makes any set pattern or template of visitation unworkable and inappropriate
- What works for a 9-5 salaried worker does not work for an airline pilot, or most airline employees for that matter
- It is not in the children’s best interest to have restricted contact to Mr. Smith because he doesn’t have a normal 9-5 job
- It is an injustice to penalize the children because their father has a job whose schedule changes from week to week and month to month
- Because of the irregularity of Mr. Roger’s schedule, we are unable to agree with your custody proposal, which would minimize the children’s time spent with him. Surely your goal is not to harm the children, which your proposal would by allowing them to see their father only 10-30% of the time
- Our proposed schedule gives equal parenting time to each parent and ensures the father will be available to care for his children on his days off
- Mother’s plan would take away children’s much needed time with their father and punish them simply because of his profession
- The (other parent’s) proposed standard possession order is not in the best interest of the children
- Other professions where a standard visitation order don’t work: firefighters, doctors, and police officers
Other things to consider (run these by your lawyer, too):
- If you’re going to appear before a judge, create a large poster with two sample schedules that you’ve flown. Overlay with colored markers the standard visitation days allowed to show exactly how few days your children and you would get to spend together. The power of this visual can’t be understated
- Get an HR or chief pilot to testify on your behalf. Their scope is narrow: back up your assertions about the type of schedules you fly, how your seniority affects this, etc.
- If your case goes to trial, put your ex on the stand and ask them, “If not 50/50 shared custody, what are you proposing?”
- Then ask, “Is this in the best interest of the children?”
- Your strategy all surrounds what’s in the best interest of the children. Everything flows downhill from this
- If your ex opposes an airline pilot possession order, expose the fact that this effort is all about HIM or HER and NOT the children. If 50/50 visitation is not fair for both sides and the children, what exactly is?
- If your divorce decree is already signed and done, it’s not too late. Wait until you’re legally allowed to modify the custody part of the decree, then go for a modification. Ask your lawyer about this
- Don’t underestimate your ex-spouse’s ability to brainwash your children to resent or outright despite you during the days and weeks you’re absent. It’s no accident this article is on a blog dealing with parental alienation.
I have noticed that in the majority of airline pilot divorces that the ex does not go along willingly with this visitation arrangement. So be prepared to have to fight this in the family court system.
Sample airline pilot possession orders [Consult with a family law attorney in your state; I am not an attorney]:
- Sample airline possession order template
- Actual wording from a cargo airline pilot’s decree: “Plaintiff, (name), and Defendant, (name), agree that the current parenting plan should be modified as follows: 1. Defendant shall provide his work schedule as a pilot for (airline) to the plaintiff as soon as he receives it via e-mail. The work schedule shall indicate when Defendant is available for parenting time with the children, and the parties contemplate that this will be in approximately two-week segments each month. 2. During the children’s school year, Defendant shall be entitled to parenting time with children from Thursday after school until Monday morning during the weeks he is not working. 3. During the summer break from school, Defendant shall be entitled to five weeks of parenting time with the children, to be exercised as follows: two interrupted weeks during which Defendant may take the children on vacation provided he provide Plaintiff with itinerary for any such trips and Plaintiff shall have telephone access to the children throughout such periods.”
- More wording you can run by your lawyer: “The Court further finds that due to his work schedule, FATHER is currently unable to exercise predictable periods of possession occurring on the same days of each month. The Court finds that FATHER’s schedule is published by (insert airline) on (insert dates). IT IS ORDERED that within ten days of FATHER’s receipt of the work schedule for the following bid period of (insert how many days bid period is), FATHER shall provide a true and correct copy of such
schedule to MOTHER by email, hand-delivery, facsimile, or first-class mail.”
If you remember only one thing, please remember this:
You and your kids should not be penalized by your employment as an airline pilot. Fight for the common sense right to see them as much as they see their other parent.