Designing a Parenting Time Schedule in a Divorce or Dissolution Case by Laurel G. Stein
Crafting a parenting time schedule that satisfies both parties in addition to serving the best interests of the children can be the most challenging aspect of a divorce and/or dissolution case. There are many variables that must be considered when designing a parenting time schedule, such as the ages of the children involved, the parties’ work schedules, the distance between the two residences, and the children’s activity schedules. While routine and stability are always the goals for the children, flexibility is the key to designing a parenting time schedule that actually works. Each family is unique and what may work well for one family may result in chaos for another family.
While the standard in most courts today is to default to a shared parenting plan (barring other circumstances such as abuse, addiction, or domestic violence) and an accompanying schedule, the task of arranging the actual details of a schedule is left to the parties and their attorneys to negotiate over the course of a divorce and/or dissolution proceeding. It is only if the parties cannot reach a resolution that the trial court would step in and order a schedule. In almost all cases, it is advisable to have the parties reach an agreement regarding a parenting time schedule rather than putting it into the hands of a third party that does not truly know the parties, the children and the intricacies of the situation.
Shared parenting does NOT necessarily mean that the parties will have equal parenting time. There are many different types of parenting schedules that can be incorporated into a shared parenting plan and sometimes it takes some experimentation to see which plan may work best for an individual family. The old school schedule was every other weekend and one mid-week visit during the week. This “standard” schedule has phased out to permit more frequent contact and shared time between the parents. Schedules such as one week on and one week off, 2/2/5/5, 3/3/4/4, splitting each week and weekend or every other weekend with two midweek visits during the week have become the trend.
Schedules can be as detailed or as general as the parties wish them to be, but it is important for the parties to understand that the schedule in a shared parenting plan is always the default schedule during times of conflict. When the parties have difficulty getting along, they must default to the schedule in their shared parenting plan. This is why it is extremely important to put a lot of thought and consideration into the plan that becomes an order of the court.
One of the many considerations in designing a parenting plan is how many exchanges will work for a family during a given week. If the parties get along reasonably well, the number of exchanges may not be an issue. If the parties cannot get along for the sake of the children, it may be advisable to limit the number of exchanges per week as it is best to avoid conflict in front of the children. Further, if a child has difficulty with transitions, the parties should consider limiting the number of exchanges per week. A choppy, fragmented schedule, while giving each parent equal time, may not be what is best for the child. There are some jurists who feel that children having to “bed hop” every other night or a few times a week is detrimental, especially during the school year.
The parties should keep in mind that what works with the children when they are young, may not work as the children get older. Parenting time schedules need to evolve over time. This requires communication between the parties and continuously re-visiting what works best for the children. As the children get older, it is important to consider their wishes as well.
While the task of creating fair parenting time schedules is difficult, parties should keep in mind that positive involvement with both parents is best for the children.
by Laurel G. Stein