When parents negotiate a divorce settlement, parenting time is one of the most important elements to consider. Too often, in my view, parents either go with the default standard order or seek a 50/50 schedule in the interest of “fairness” and “equal time.”
But I find myself recommending alternatives to either of those options – thinking about both the needs of children and the circumstances of the parents.
On its face, a 50/50 possession schedule seems like the fairest and simplest of the plans out there – for example, the child spends one week with one parent, followed by one week with the other parent, and only one exchange occurs. Such a schedule appears to be more streamlined (and simple to understand) than other plans out there.
But 50/50 can have its issues. For the most part, each parent has possession of the child for the same holidays each year, and each misses out on the same holidays each year. If a child has a standing event each Tuesday evening, a parent with a standard possession order has the child each and every Tuesday and can better work that into a routine than those on a 50/50 schedule, who alternate Tuesdays.
Also, as I caution parents, if they fail to account for their work schedules when designing a parenting schedule, a bulk of parenting time might actually be nothing more than time the child unnecessarily spends in someone else’s care, which defeats the whole purpose of parenting time.
Parenting time can sometimes be difficult to negotiate because each parent thinks of it as “time my kids are taken away from me” vs. “time that my kids get to spend connecting with their father (or mother).” That sort of attitude prevents not only productive negotiations but also tends to relay a message to the child that the other parent’s parenting time is not as important.
However, if couples come into the negotiations with an understanding that the children need close and continuing contact with each parent, the result is a visitation schedule that actually is based on those particular children’s best interests.
When both parents live in the same school district, or at least the same city, I recommend using the extended standard possession order as a default, and then getting creative with that schedule to best meet the needs of the children and parents. The extended standard order does have the advantages of keeping children with the same parent each week night and alternating holidays (so each parent can experience Thanksgiving and Christmas with their kids in alternating years).
One factor to consider is differing family traditions over the holidays. If one parent holds family festivities on Christmas Eve, and the other favors Christmas Day, there’s no reason not to have a Christmas morning exchange built into the schedule. I say, “Grab the Pop Tarts and drive over there!” The default exchange day of December 28 in the standard orders is there, in large part, for families that plan travel over the holidays.
I recently worked with a couple who began with the extended standard orders, continued Thursday overnights with the father throughout the entire summer, and got very close to having the children an equal number of days without the challenges that a stereotypical 50/50 possession order brings.
Ultimately, a willingness to be flexible and creative with parenting time is best for both parents and kids. The standard possession schedule is something to fall back on when parents can’t agree on who gets the kids when – feel free to depart from what’s on paper if the both of you agree. Just make sure that the schedule you’re falling back on works for you and your kids.