Parents arguingWhen two parents separate, one of the hardest decisions that must be made is where the children are going to live and how much time they will spend with each parent. A number of factors go into creating a custody schedule including each parent’s work schedule, how close together each parent lives from the other, how much the parents have split the parenting duties prior to separating, the age of the children, etc. In this article, I will discuss what to consider when creating a custody schedule, and why it is important to maintain the plan once it is established.

Custody schedules need to address the specific needs of both the parents and children

Depending on what state you live in, your custody schedule may be called a number of different things – joint custody, shared custody, a shared family plan, etc. Regardless of the title, if two parents are going to both be involved in their child(ren)’s life, a schedule needs to be drawn up. Ideally, both parents can sit down and come up with a plan that works equally for both parties. If the parents cannot agree on how to share their children then the court system will do it for them, or they may be sent to a mediator. It is important to keep in mind that if the court is forced to come up with a custody schedule, one or both parents may end up extremely unhappy and inconvenienced. If the co-parents are able to create a family plan that works on their terms then it is more likely that the plan will be followed in the future.

There is no one size fits all shared custody plan, and they are often established depending on the needs of both the parents and children. If one or both parents have jobs that require non-business hours, frequent travel, or unexpected overtime, creativity may be necessary. Custody schedules may involve the children staying with one parent during the week and then visiting the other parent on the weekends. It could involve shorter stints with the parents alternating every two or three days. Or it could involve longer stretches of time with the children staying with each parent for more than a week. When parents do not live in the same city or state, it is not unusual for children to live with one parent primarily, and then have extended visits and holidays with the other parent. The location of the child’s school and activities is often going to dictate the general area the child needs to live for the majority of the time.

When a couple separates, one or both parents generally move into a new home that is unfamiliar to the children. When determining where a child will live – whether it is primarily with one parent or sharing time with both – it is important to ensure that all children in the home have a place to sleep, a place for their belongings, and ideally a space where they can have an element of privacy. It is not negotiable that the home be safe from hazards, have working utilities, and be absent of other adults who could do harm to the child. In the initial stages of separation, one or both parents may not be able to acquire housing to meet all of these ideals. It is not uncommon for adults to move back in with family members following a separation, and having a separate space may not be possible. When determining where the children will live, and how much time the children will spend in an environment, it is important to consider each parent’s circumstances and make a plan based on what is best for the child.

Shared parenting plans must be followed as closely as possible, or modified as needed

Once a custody plan is created–whether mutually by the parents, or by the court – it is important that both parents adhere to the plan as closely as possible. Children may feel a heightened sense of anxiety when they do not know where they will be sleeping or when they will be expected to see a co-parent. Likewise, each adult will have a much easier time scheduling their own life if they know when the children will be in their care. The purpose of a custody plan is to bring a sense of order to the lives of all parties involved, and to be as fair as possible to both the parents and children.

However, even the best laid plans will not always work out perfectly. This may be due to forces beyond anyone’s control; changes to a work schedule, children taking up new activities, medical emergencies, financial emergencies, etc. However, it may be due to either a co-parent ignoring the schedule, or a child refusing to participate in the shared plan. How to navigate a problem to the family plan is going to be highly situation specific. If a disruption to the plan is temporary and the co-parents have adequate communication, it is likely the family can get through the issue privately. If there is a part of the shared custody agreement that is fundamentally not working, then a formal change to the agreement could be necessary.

Parental coaching sessions assist parents in evaluating the effectiveness of their shared custody plan

Parental coaching sessions can help support a parent who is having a problem with their shared custody schedule. A third party can help a parent evaluate the situation, look beyond their own biases, and come up with solutions for the family. As a family law attorney, Lindsey has a unique perspective, and can help a parent determine if the custody schedule is “fixable” or if their family attorney should be called. Parental coaching is not legal advice or therapy; rather Lindsey provides support, practical solutions, and is able to use her experience to help parents deal with their issues privately. By utilizing a coaching service, it is often possible for a family to avoid having to go back to court, which is both expensive and stressful.

Sharp Divorce Coaching is a virtual service and is available to parents in all fifty states. If you are a parent who is struggling to maintain or put together a practical family plan, contact us today to see if coaching sessions are right for you.