Creating and operating a custody schedule is a daunting task. Anxious about the numerous “unknowns,” divorcing parents often negotiate from a fearful or hot-headed position when their children need them to be calm and secure. Discussing common custody arrangements in the course of therapy can take the mystery out of the process and the heat out of the negotiation.
Common Joint Physical Custody Schedules: 50/50 or 60/40 Split
Research has repeatedly confirmed the importance of quality time with both parents, assuming both parents are safe for the child. The right joint custody schedule should fit the child’s developmental stage while minimizing conflict and strain on the parents.
Parent 1 has the child for one week, then Parent 2 has the child for a week.
- Pros: This schedule is consistent, minimizes the number of transitions, and ensures that both parents have weekend and weekday time. Longer time with one parent facilitates visits with grandparents or other attachment figures without limiting the parent’s time.
- Cons: The child can feel caught between two worlds. Young children may struggle with separation anxiety over the week, so this schedule may be easier for children older than 12. Scheduling a mid-week visit with the “off” parent is a solution for that, but parents must communicate clearly and civilly.
Parent 1 has the child from Friday afternoon through Monday morning, then Parent 2 gets Monday afternoon through Friday morning.
- Pros: This schedule allows for extended time with both parents within the same week.
- Cons: It can be difficult for Parent 2 to have quality time with the child during the week. Parents will have to factor in time in school, daycare, and extracurricular activities.
Parent 1 has the child for two weekdays, then Parent 2 will have the child for two weekdays. The parents alternate who gets the child on the weekend.
- Pros: Parents get a fair split of weekday and weekend time, and the child sees both parents frequently and consistently. This can be a solution for children younger than 12 who need frequent bonding time with both parents.
- Cons: Frequent transitions can complicate the school week for older children and can be upsetting for infants and very young children.
Common Sole Custody Schedules: Visitation
Sole custody is often the best solution for infants or the only solution for long-distance co-parenting. The non-custodial parent may fear missing milestones or losing connection with the child, but the right custody schedule will minimize those negatives while best suiting the family’s needs.
Weekend Split (70/30)
Parent 1 has the child during the week, and Parent 2 takes the child on the weekends for one or two overnights.
- Pros: The non-custodial parent and child will have quality time over the weekends without having to compromise with work or school scheduling. If one parent has a busy work schedule or lives farther away from the school, this arrangement can be a solution.
- Cons: Overnight visits in an unfamiliar home are stressful for infants and young children. Parents should stay mindful of their child’s developmental stage when introducing this schedule.
Parent 1 keeps the child every day, but Parent 2 has scheduled visits of 3-6 hours at a time during the week.
- Pros: The child has a “home base” with a regular caretaker, but also has consistent visitation and bonding time with the non-custodial parent. This is helpful for young children and infants.
- Cons: Weekday scheduling can be difficult to arrange, so parents must be able to communicate effectively.
Monthly Overnight Visits
For most of the month, Parent 1 will take care of the child. One or two weekends out of the month, the child will go to Parent 2.
- Pros: This arrangement can be excellent for long-distance co-parenting, or when one parent has a busy work schedule.
- Cons: Three weeks is a long time for a child. The non-custodial parent could miss important milestones or lose touch with their child.
Ultimately, the “best” custody schedule is the one that puts the children first. Encouraging parents to prioritize their children’s needs, minimize conflict with the ex-spouse, and examine their schedules realistically will set the whole family up for success.