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Establishing Parenting Time Orders for Children

by Deborah Watkins , Office of Child Support Services Executive Director
Ever since its beginning, Child Support has worked towards what is in the best interest of the child.  As we’ve moved from a welfare-recovery program to a “Family-Centered Child Support” program , our core business has stayed the same—locating parents and assets; establishing legal parenthood and support orders; collecting child support payments; and providing case management services.  We know that by focusing on healthy family relationships, engagement of fathers from birth, economic stability and ensuring that parents can safely pursue child support we can more effectively ensure better outcomes for children and increase the payment of regular and consistent child support. 

This shift in our toolbox gives us opportunities to look at innovative programs, such as our new Parenting Time Orders for Children (PTOC) program. This program offers unmarried parents a free and simple way to create a legally enforceable parenting time plan at the time of their administrative support hearing.  PTOC does not require either parent to hire an attorney, pay a filing fee, or file a motion in court.   If the parents currently have a parenting time agreement that works for both parents and the child, that’s great.  Establishing a formal parenting time order through PTOC provides a back-up plan in case things change, and parents later have trouble working things out. For parents without such an arrangement, the PTOC process offers parents the opportunity to establish a formal parenting time plan that they mutually agreed upon.  PTOC is a simple process and it’s free. 

Having a consistent and mutually agreeable Parenting Time Order makes a world of difference to both parents and their children.  Parents who are living apart have to juggle time, resources and emotions, especially when it comes to sharing parenting time during special events over the course of the year.  Having a parenting time order can be vitally important to help support relationships between parents, as well as relationships between parents and their children.  Child well-being is enhanced when the child receives both financial and emotional support.  Ensuring that the child can spend positive time with the non-custodial parent often leads to more stable and consistent support payments.  When child support is received on a regular and consistent basis, children have been shown to have better cognitive development at an early age, and are more likely to graduate from high school.  Establishing a formal parenting time order can help to support engaged fathering, which also leads to improved outcomes for children, including greater emotional security, less depression and fewer behavioral problems throughout their development. 

It’s not just the research that shows us that establishing parenting time orders and child support orders at the same time is beneficial: parents have also shared the difference that going through the PTOC process has made in their families: In 2016, one father told us that he established a support order which included a PTOC. Prior to the establishment of the order, if he and the mother of his child had a disagreement, she would withhold access to his child. Now, with the PTOC he knows that he can see his child regularly. “A lot of parents go through what we went through,” says this father, “the PTOC makes it easier.” 

Another mother, who is raising her two boys told us, “it’s rough for one parent alone.” Because she worries for the boys’ safety, she takes them to school and picks them up each day. Since establishing the child support order and the parenting time order, the child’s father picks both boys up on Wednesdays and helps with school work, and the boys also spend every other weekend with the father. Before the parenting time arrangement, the father wasn’t involved on a consistent basis. Not only is the regular schedule better for the children, it has also resulted in regular and consistent support payments.  The connection between engagement between parent and child is a direct link to the commitment to paying child support. 

Parenting Time Orders are not available or right for every case.  In some cases, establishing a parenting agreement may not be safe for the parent or the child.  The PTOC program screens all parents for family violence and has resources available for parents with safety concerns. 

We now have the opportunity to offer parents the option of establishing parenting time orders at the same time that we establish support orders, when we can do so safely for everyone involved.  Establishing a parenting time order supports healthy family relationships and becomes a cornerstone of a Family-Centered Child Support program, and it’s effective.   As of December 2016, the Office of Child Support Services (OCSS) has served over 330,827 customers and collected $238,335,102 in child support payments. 

For more information or to contact Deborah Watkins, OCSS Director, call 216-443-5217 or email