Are you wondering what a typical visitation schedule looks like? Especially if you’ve just recently learned that your request for sole custody, or even shared custody, has been denied by the courts, you probably want to know what your visitation options look like.
Child Visitation Schedule Options
In many states, typical planned parent-child visitation accounts for approximately 20% of the total parenting time (which does not include time spent at school or in day care).
While there’s no one-size-fits-all routine, a typical visitation schedule may include:
• Overnights every other weekend
• One weeknight visit or overnight per week
• An extended visit during the summer, such as two to six weeks
• Some (but not all) holidays and birthdays
It’s important to establish a regular visitation schedule that works well for your entire family. Especially if your children are young or your separation is fairly recent, your whole family will benefit from a predictable, consistent routine.
Generally, it’s best to start with a modest schedule you can all agree on and build on it from there. For example, start with overnights every other weekend, combined with one mid-week evening visit. Then transition to an overnight midweek or tack an extra day onto the front or end of a weekend. It may feel outside your comfort zone initially, but it’s important for your kids to spend time with both parents. In fact, some states require parents to establish visitation schedules that allow both parents to enjoy approximately as much parenting time as they did before the separation or divorce. So if you both saw your kids daily before the break-up, it’s reasonable to think contact once or twice a week is difficult for everyone involved.
Customizing the Visitation Schedule
Consider 20% a starting point. Many families make arrangements that allow for far more visitation time by including additional weekday visits or longer extended summer vacations with the non-custodial parent. If you live in different states, this can be especially difficult to arrange, but it’s worth the effort to create a visitation schedule that works for all of you in the long run. It may be hard to imagine your kids as teenagers, but that day will come—and when it does, you may be grateful that you made an investment early on in encouraging your ex’s relationship with your kids.
Balancing Consistency and Flexibility
Consistency is important, but so is flexibility. Emergencies, last-minute schedule changes, and work-related issues will come up—guaranteed. As long as they don’t become the norm, try to give your ex as much flexibility as you would like him or her to give you.
As much as you may consider it unthinkable at this point in time, chances are that you’ll one day be calling your ex with a last-minute request, too. Allowing one another a small degree of flexibility can go a long way toward helping you develop a more effective co-parenting relationship, as well.
Putting It in Writing
Finally, putting your plans in writing will help you stick to the routine. Work on developing a formal parenting plan with your ex and consider filing it with the state, as well. This will help you to establish standards concerning visitation schedules, pick-up, and drop-off routines, communication guidelines, and more.
Choosing a time sharing schedule that works for you, your children, and your ex is one of the most important decisions you’ll make as a single parent. Sure, you can try the ever-popular “alternating weekend” option, but it may not be the best choice for your particular needs.
Whether you’re drafting an initial parenting plan, or you’re trying to make sense of the schedule presented to you by the court, the sample calendars displayed here will help you better understand your kids’ visitation schedule options.
1. Alternating Weekends Routine
With this child visitation schedule, the kids reside with the custodial parent and spend alternating weekends with the non-custodial parent. In the example shown here, weekend visits begin at 6:00 p.m. on Friday and end at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday.
This is probably the most popular child visitation schedule, especially for newly separated parents. It’s often a good option for situations in which the non-custodial parent works a typical 9 to 5 Monday through Friday schedule. But it’s not your only option!
2. Weeknight Plus Weekend
When families live near one another, it’s possible to spend just an evening together. In this scenario, in addition to alternating weekends, the children spend one evening per week with the non-custodial parent.
For example, the children visit with the non-custodial parent every Wednesday night from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., and again on alternating weekends from 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 p.m. Sunday.
Another version of this approach has the children coming to the non-custodial parent right after school, giving that parent the opportunity to help with homework or attend after-school activities.
3. Extending Weekends Through Monday
If the custodial parent travels for work or other reasons, it can be tough to be home at 6:00 every Sunday evening. A good way to manage this difficulty is to extend the children’s stay through Monday.
This sample child visitation schedule resembles the alternating weekend plan but extends through Monday. In this case, alternating weekend visits would begin at 6:00 p.m. on Friday and end at 6:00 p.m. on Monday. Another option is simply to have the children stay through Sunday night and head to school the following morning.
4. Make it a Midweek Overnight
With this routine, the children visit every other weekend, along with one mid-week overnight. As you can see from the calendar, this schedule allows the children to enjoy significant chunks of parenting time with both parents.
Of course, a schedule like this can get tricky when children have late afternoon or evening obligations. Parents must share not only schedule information but also directions for drop-offs and pickups, and contact information in case of unexpected delays.
5. A Wider Range of Visitation Options
Not every parent works Monday through Friday. And not every parent works 9 to 5. When parents’ schedules are unusual, visitation schedules may need to reflect what’s possible. In some cases, parents can cover for one another’s work schedules by choosing a more flexible approach to visitation. For example, children might live with custodial parent Friday through Monday, and stay with the non-custodial parent Tuesday through Thursday. What if the non-custodial parent works the swing shift? In that case, the swing shift parent might be responsible for picking up kids after school each day, helping with homework, handling carpools, and providing dinner. Then the non-custodial parent might deliver the kids to the custodial parent’s home.
50/50 Custody: What Does It Look Like – And Which Is Best For Your Family?
When going through a divorce, one of the biggest questions parents must answer is how they will be handling physical custody of their children. As a quick refresher of the different types of child custody, physical custody refers to with whom the child will be living and the parenting schedule they will be following. This is different than legal custody, which determines who will be responsible for making major decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as their medical care or religious education.
If you and your co-parent have decided on shared or joint physical custody, you’ll still need to work together to determine which parenting schedule fits your family the best. 50/50 schedules are one of the most common forms of joint physical custody, but parents should not default to this arrangement without thinking critically about whether it’ll work for their situation.
What To Ask Before Pursuing 50/50 Custody
For many families, children having robust and healthy relationships with both parents is a top priority after a divorce. Some see the simplest way of achieving this goal as maintaining a 50/50 split in their parenting time. In order for it to be the best child custody arrangement, however, co-parents must be able to commit to the particulars of a 50/50 custody schedule.
Distance between co-parents
Depending on which schedule parents choose, 50/50 custody can require frequent exchanges between parents. If co-parents live a few blocks or neighborhoods away from each other, those increased exchanges may not be an issue. But if significant distance separates co-parents, incorporating multiple exchanges per week may not be ideal.
For 50/50 custody schedules that require more frequent exchanges, communication needs to be on point and conflict needs to be contained. Traffic jams happen, meetings run late, and if parents are unable to communicate productively and civilly with each other, these bumps in the road can turn into major issues. If you and your co-parent struggle to maintain peaceful communication, choose a 50/50 schedule with a minimum number of exchanges or consider choosing a different split in parenting time.
Work and activity schedules
You and your co-parent’s work schedules will play a big part in whether or not certain 50/50 custody schedules are feasible. But it’s not only your schedules that have an impact. Your children’s activity and extracurricular schedules must also be taken into account when formatting your parenting time.
Common 50/50 custody schedules
Not all 50/50 custody schedules are created equal. Each has its pros and cons, so think about your own scheduling needs when determining which repeating pattern best fits your situation. To help get you started, here are 5 of the most common 50/50 custody schedule templates for you to consider. For ease of explanation, we’ll be referring to co-parents as Parent A and Parent B.
Template #1: Alternating weeks
Alternating weeks are one of the simplest 50/50 child custody schedules. In this pattern, one week is spent with Parent A while the following week is spent with Parent B. This keeps parenting exchanges to an absolute minimum while still allowing both parents to have robust relationships with their children.
This schedule is best suited for older children who are better able to handle extended periods of time without seeing one of their parents. For younger children, having to wait a whole week before they see their other parent may sometimes be too long of a time interval.
Template #2: Alternating weeks with a mid-week overnight
For parents who want a simple schedule but do not wish to go a whole week without seeing their children, alternating weeks with a mid-week overnight can provide a happy compromise. For this schedule, parents include a single night of parenting time mid-week in their schedule. This mid-week exchange may not be suitable for parents who live long distances from each other. Children may also have a hard time settling in when they have a single night with one of their parents mid-week.
Template #3: 2-2-3
In a 2-2-3 parenting schedule, children spend two nights with Parent A, two nights with parent B, and then three nights with Parent A. The schedule than proceeds with the opposite: two nights with Parent B, two nights with Parent A, and then three nights with Parent B.
This schedule can be ideal for families with young children because it allows for more frequent contact between parents and their kids. However, this frequency comes with an increase in exchanges of which parents should be aware. Also, while the pattern of 2-2-3 is consistent, week by week parents will be alternating which days they have their children. For busy schedules with numerous activities and other events, not knowing immediately who will be with the children on any given Monday can make things a little more complicated.
Template #4: 3-3-4-4
3-3-4-4 schedules allow for frequent contact between parents and children while providing greater stability week to week. For example, if the schedule begins on a Sunday, Parent A will always have Sunday through Tuesday. And Parent B will always have Wednesday through Friday. The only day that alternates back and forth between parents is Saturday. This can simplify scheduling as parents immediately know whether a future date falls in their or their co-parent’s parenting time.
Template #5: 2-2-5-5
2-2-5-5 schedules are similar to 3-3-4-4 schedules in that they maintain greater consistency week to week. For example, if the schedule begins on a Sunday, the only days that alternate between parents are Thursday through Saturday. Parent A will always have Sunday and Monday, while Parent B will always have Tuesday and Wednesday. Schedules that provide this type of consistency can be easier for children as well, as it’s simpler for them to understand when they’ll be with either parent.
Once You’ve Chosen Your Custody Schedule
Whichever parenting schedule you choose, make sure you document it in your co-parenting plan and track it on a calendar shared by both you and your co-parent. It’s also important to remember that the schedule that works for you now may not be the best solution as your children grow. Don’t be afraid to periodically reassess your scheduling needs and work with your co-parent to maintain a schedule ideal for your family.
NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.
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