The subject of custody is perhaps the most complicated and emotional part of the Parenting Plan. Keep in mind that once a custody plan is established, it may be very difficult to switch around.
In my own experience, I gave my ex-wife primary custody of my three boys because I couldn’t imagine how I could have full time custody given that I had a full-time job. What I didn’t envision is the fact that she would soon require a full-time job too– and her “stay at home” status which I envisioned as best for the children was not something she could sustain very long.
Giving in to her request for primary custody because of that “advantage” was, in hindsight, kind of stupid. Her advantage was only fleeting.
This is the standard schedule that will define where your children will be on a given day and will be in effect year round (except for specifically defined exceptions) until each child is 18 years old.
• Children’s bedtimes and how they will change over time.
• School schedules and how they will be transported to and from school.
• After-school activities and how they will change over time.
• Children’s friends and how they will change over time.
• Children’s daycare arrangements and how they will change over time.
• Your work schedule and how that may change over time.
As a rule, each parent should be able to spend weekend time with the children, usually every other weekend, while during the week the child stays in one place–with the parent who lives in their school district. If the other Parent is local, a mid-week visit such as on Wednesdays is common.
Be careful not to create too many transitions in the schedule. It’s best for the children to stay with each parent for longer periods of time than to switch back and forth, even if the total time is the same. For instance have the children at one house three days in a row and the other house four days rather than having the children go with Mom on Monday, Dad on Tuesday, Mom on Wednesday, and back to Dad on Thursday. The latter will drive both you and your kids crazy!
A very common option is for the kids to alternate weekends with Mom and Dad. In the event that there is no school on Monday, the non-custodial parent should have the option of keeping the children overnight on Sunday, but if there is school, it is probably better for the kids to go back to their primary residence.
If you go for an alternate weekend option you may want to include a provision that the every other weekend schedule is by the calendar week and does not shift. This would mean that even if there is a special day which conflicts with the regular schedule temporarily, such as when an alternating holiday falls on your scheduled weekend but it is the other parent’s year for it, then on the following weekend the schedule continues as if the special day had not happened.
If you don’t include a “no shift” provision your custody schedule will adjust every time there is an exception. This makes it very hard for planning ahead with your life. If you go with a “no shift” every other weekend, you can program it into most calendar programs and project virtually any weekend in advance very easily.
Here is some sample text you might consider:
Think ahead! Your child may only be in pre-school now, but how will this schedule be affected by elementary school, junior high and high school? Do you have more than one child? At some point, one child will be at one school while the other is at another with different start and finish times. What happens when one parent has to be in two places at the same time?
Shall vs. May
My own Parenting Plan has a curious mix of the word “shall” and the word “may”. At the time I didn’t pay too much attention to which word was used when. But it matters a great deal…
Notice the difference between these two statements:
1) The father shall have the children on Wednesdays from 4:00 to 7:00 PM
2) The father may the children on Wednesdays from 4:00 to 7:00 PM
In the first case, the father is obligated to have the children from 4 – 7 while in the second case, he is not. The first case is an obligation; the second case is an option.
If you have a given time window in your agreement when you “have the kids”, but you are unable to do so, who’s job is it to find coverage? If you don’t show up, are you potentially in contempt?
If the word “shall” is used, then it is your “problem” to find coverage, whereas if the word “may” is used, then it is your former spouse’s problem. Of course, the two of you should work together to solve the problem, but if you could do that you might still be married.
Daycare/Non Parental Time
There will naturally be times when your children are not in the care of either parent, such as when they are at school or at daycare. Later, when they are older, they may be unsupervised at times.
If your children are in daycare and you suddenly find yourself available-for instance if you get out of work early– can you go ahead and pick them up for a visit? If so, does this unscheduled visit require consent or simply notification?
Don’t assume anything. My youngest son is in daycare after school and I’ve had several opportunities to pick him up and return him to his Mother’s house at the time she would usually pick him up. I would think this would not be an issue, as it doesn’t take away any of her scheduled time, and even saves her the pickup. But it is an issue. She has refused this on multiple occasions. My new wife offered to take my son roller skating after school with her kids but my ex-wife refused that too.
My oldest son is in high school and when not in sports he is unsupervised from approximately 3 PM until 6 PM. If I am available during that time, wouldn’t it be reasonable that he do his homework at my house instead? Not according to my ex-wife, who has insisted that my son “is fine” at her house after school. He can go pretty much anywhere he wants during this time, except to my house.
Why does my ex-wife refuse custody in these cases? I don’t know why and frankly it doesn’t matter. I can’t complain to a judge that she is in contempt because our Parenting Plan didn’t address this issue.
One of the things that becomes difficult for a divorced parent is to spend one-on-one time with just one of the children. My agreement has the option of “special time” with one of my children on the “off weekend”—the weekend when I don’t have scheduled custodial time. This is a wonderful option and the kids really enjoy it, and I encourage you to put it into your agreement.
In our agreement we specified Friday evenings from 5:00 PM to 7:00 PM, or “any other mutually agreeable time”. The problem has been that we rarely have any other mutually-agreeable time, and also it doesn’t specify if she has the option to refuse or not, which she often does claiming scheduling conflicts.