Divorce can be complicated, even in the most amicable of circumstances. If you have children, there’s a lot to consider as you and your co-parent figure out child custody, child support, and parenting time arrangements.
Creating a parenting time schedule is one of the most effective ways in which divorcing parents can take the stress out of moving forward with the next stage of their family life. Not sure where to start? An experienced family law attorney can work with you to come up with an agreement that supports all parties involved.
What is a parenting time schedule?
A parenting time schedule is the logistical part of your parenting plan. It details how a child will divide their time between parents following a separation or divorce.
Your parenting time schedule (which contains a schedule for dividing up regular weeks, vacations, school breaks, holidays, or birthdays) will be part of your overall child custody agreement. The overall agreement will lay out arrangements for legal and physical custody, child care plans, responsibilities for extracurricular activities, educational plans, and other important parenting protocols.
A parenting time schedule is often the cornerstone of the overall agreement between the parents, and its durability, flexibility, and level of focus on the children can make or break the shared parenting experience. This is why ensuring that you and your co-parent are on the same page about what it entails is important.
What to include in your parenting time schedule
The goal of a parenting time schedule is to ensure that children have the opportunity to continue building relationships with both parents.
Regardless of how civil your divorce is, the best plans are those that include as much detail as possible. Setting clear expectations at the start of this new phase of your life is one of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of contention down the road.
While you and your co-parent may very well deviate from this agreement and provide each other with flexibility, in the event that there is something you cannot agree upon, a detailed schedule will serve as the baseline you can return to over and over.
When drafting your overall parenting time schedule, consider how you and your co-parent plan to manage:
- Division of physical custody. What days and times of the week will a child spend with which parent?
- Birthdays, holidays, vacations, and school breaks
- Changes in parenting time plans for summer and academic year schedules
- Changes in a child’s childcare or school schedule for early dismissals, half days, late starts, snow days, etc.
- Child care when children or parents are sick or have conflicting schedules (which can include the right of first refusal)
- And more, as applicable to your situation
It’s important to come to mutual agreements on each of these issues, but also to make a plan for how you and your spouse will communicate when you can’t agree. For example, does everything have to go through lawyers? Can you communicate with each other but only in writing? Are phone calls or texts okay?
Another thing to consider in your larger parenting plan is how you want to parent across your households in ways that might extend beyond your parenting time schedule. Things to consider here include:
- Reasons for discipline and how it will be carried out across both households
- Device usage (how much time, parental access, tracking devices, etc.)
- Sleepovers—yay or nay?
- Passports (when to get them, who holds them, how are they exchanged between parents)
- How to handle communication between parents during times apart
- How to handle communications with the school like parent-teacher conferences or IEP meetings
- How to handle medical appointments and decisions
Ironing all these details out while you’re both already at the negotiating table is usually easier than trying to go back and adjust behaviors later.
Three tips to create an effective parenting schedule
Creating a parenting time schedule isn’t about one parent “winning” and the other parent “losing” (even if it sometimes feels that way in the moment).
Instead, the goal should be to make sure your child has all the support they need to flourish in every aspect of their lives.
If you and your ex can stay focused on your child’s best interests and keep the lines of communication open (while respecting one another’s boundaries), you’ll have a much better chance of developing a plan that works for everyone.
1. Focus on your child’s best interests
Every decision you make in a parenting schedule will have an impact on your child, so be sure to put their best interests at the center of every conversation.
This may require some compromising with your former partner, but remember: your goal is
to protect your child as much as possible while still ensuring that they can spend time with
each parent. For example, if one parent lives an hour away from the school, it may not make sense to have a bi-weekly parenting time schedule.
Ask yourself: how much can you each sacrifice to make sure your child can get to the lessons or practices that matter the most to them? Can you give up or trade some of your scheduled parenting time to ensure that your child can attend the vacation your ex’s side of the family takes every year?
Keeping negotiations focused on what will most benefit your child can help take some of
the sting and intensity out of what are often difficult conversations.
Whether it’s direct communication or through lawyers, written or verbal, the most important thing is to be open and honest when communicating with your ex-partner. Boundaries are less likely to be crossed and expectations are more likely to be met if everyone understands the situation clearly.
Incidentally, this also applies to communicating with your children. Make sure your child knows that both parents love them and want to spend time with them. Listen to their questions and consider age-appropriate ways to respond to their concerns about new routines without blame or guilt. However, it’s important that your child never feels “in the middle” or like they need to relay messages between parents.
If communication becomes difficult for any party, parent or child, consider meeting with a counselor to support healthy behaviors.
3. Work with your child custody attorney
Even if your relationship with your ex is a good one, working with a skilled family law attorney is the best way to protect your rights (and your child’s best interests). A divorce attorney with experience negotiating and drafting parenting time schedules can help you avoid making mistakes that will be hard to remedy.
Work with our team to create parenting time schedules that work
If you need help creating a parenting plan or a parenting time schedule, contact our team at Jacobs Berger to coordinate your strategic planning session.