Physical custody is shared in divorce by creating a schedule or calendar that sets forth each parent’s time with the children. Legal custody which is the right to make major decisions affecting the children, is almost always shared equally between the parents.

The thought that usually follows the word “custody” is at what time and on what days will I have the kids?

Although spending time with your children is always in the forefront of your mind, it is important to note that there are two forms of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody relates to the schedule that sets forth when each parent will see their children and the transportation of the children back and forth between each parent’s home. Legal custody entitles parents to make major decisions in their children’s lives, such as their religion, what school they will attend, etc. Legal custody is almost always shared equally between the two parents. Physical custody is not always shared equally and is more closely catered to your individual family’s lifestyle.

Making a Game Plan: Creating a Shared Custody Schedule

When creating a shared custody schedule in divorce, it is important to think both practically and with forethought. Creating a calendar that clearly lays out the days the children will spend with each parent, as well as the specific times they will be picked up or dropped off, minimizes confusion and disputes.

To make a smooth transition to a new schedule it is essential to make decisions rooted in your normal lifestyle. If one parent normally gets the kids ready for school and the other parent usually picks them up, try to stick to that routine. This tactic avoids a drastic change in the children’s schedule and encourages a feeling of normalcy. One effective and easy tool is the family calendar app Cozi. This app features individualized linked calendars, marking important events and scheduled pick up and drop off times. The ability to see each family member’s schedule makes communicating simpler and life easier to manage.

Schedules are often created to permit both parents to spend equal or nearly equal time with their children. However, there may be situations in which one parent is allocated more time than the other due to work schedules and availability. When creating a schedule, it is important to keep in mind outside factors, such as extracurricular activities, family, friends, and location. Although they may seem to initially complicate things, they are key components of everyday life.

What Schedule Options are There?

Common schedules that go hand in hand with equally shared custody agreements are a 2/2/3 schedule or a 2/5 schedule. A 2/2/3 schedule functions on a two-week cycle. The first week Parent 1 has Monday and Tuesday overnights, while Parent 2 has Wednesday and Thursday overnights. Parent 1 would then have Friday, Saturday, and Sunday overnights. After the first week has ended the schedule would flip, making the days Parent 1 and Parent 2 had the opposite than the previous week.

Another effective schedule is the 2/5 schedule, which also works on a two-week cycle, but the difference is Parent 1 would always have Monday and Tuesday overnights, and Parent 2 would always have Wednesday and Thursday overnights. The weekends which include Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights would alternate by week, giving you an equal amount of both days and weekends to spend with your children.

A third less popular equally shared custody schedule is the week-to-week schedule, which is self-explanatory. Week-to-week schedules are usually reserved for older children, who prefer less disruption in their lives from traveling back and forth between homes.

Pick a Schedule That Works for You and Your Children

There are positives and negatives to each of the schedules, but the most important component is that you pick the schedule that works best with your children’s, needs, wants, and daily schedules. The 2/2/3 schedule guarantees that each parent sees their children every few days, but the days in which they see their kids differ depending on the week. Although effective and fair, this cycle may be confusing or even chaotic when balancing work, sports, music classes and the little idiosyncrasies of everyday life. If that is the case you may lean towards the 2/5 schedule. This schedule is consistent, clearly marking which day the children will be with the respective parent, but it does mean that one parent may not see their children for five days at a time. Although these are popular options for many families, each household is different and there are many variations of schedules as shown on Custody XChange. The important thing is that you find a schedule that fits your particular situation.

Holidays and Vacation Days

Another crucial factor in creating a shared custody schedule is to consider the days that stand out from regular day-to-day life. Holidays and vacation days seem to take precedence in most of our lives, and it is essential to determine the game-plan for when that time pops up. Some families choose to alternate holidays by year, for example, giving Parent 1 Christmas on odd years and Parent 2 Christmas on even years.  Other families split the holiday in half, giving Parent 1 Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and Parent 2 Christmas day and night (those splits can similarly flip in even and odd years). Of course, this decision is personal and unique to each family due to family traditions, travel plans, and even distance between the two households. In regard to vacation, most families agree to 2 non-consecutive weeks to be taken when school is not in session. This guarantees that no parent is away from their children for more than 2 weeks at a time.

What if We Can’t Agree on a Schedule?

All the schedule making and calendar planning can be stressful and even a little confusing, but it is important to establish a system for everyone to follow,  so your children can know what to expect on any given day. A fixed schedule also reduces conflict in the long run.

One way to ease the stress of creating a shared custody schedule is to discuss the issue with a divorce mediator. The mediator is a neutral third party that will simplify the process for you by making suggestions and providing expert guidance. The mediator can help clear up any confusion between the two parties as well as determine a fair and well thought out compromise.

After the parties have reached an agreement, a divorce mediator can write up the agreement into a clear formal document to submit to the court.  Once the custody agreement is written up and signed by the parties, the mediator can take legal steps to have it entered into a court order by a judge. That process makes the schedule official and creates an incentive for each parent to follow the schedule according to what was agreed upon. Of course, custody agreements and orders can be modified from time to time as kids grow up and life changes, as most of ours do.

What is the Difference Between a Divorce Mediator and a Divorce Lawyer?

A divorce mediator acts as a neutral third party that allows each parent to discuss his or her opinions and concerns about the custody schedule while offering professional guidance to help them come to a resolution. By choosing to mediate their dispute, the parties are able to steer away from hiring individual lawyers who are required to advocate for their clients and, in most cases, fight for their clients’ preferred schedule in court — a much more formal setting. But of course, not all agreements are ironed out as smoothly as we would all like them to be, and there cases in which animosity takes over and no decisions can be reached willingly. In those situations, it is necessary for each parent to engage with a divorce lawyer and go to court to have a judge make a binding decision regarding what custody schedule is in the best interest of the children.


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