A shared parenting plan post-divorce or after parents break up might be the kindest gift they can give their children, according to “Parents” magazine. The custody laws in all states, which stress that children should have frequent and loving contact with both parents, are in line with this same principle. “Parents” magazine indicates that children who enjoy this contact after their parents part ways are better adjusted and have fewer socialization, school and behavioral problems. But shared custody requires the dedication of both parents to make it work.
Various states have different terminology for shared custody. Many jurisdictions refer to the concept as joint physical custody. It means that your children will spend roughly an equal amount of time living in your home and that of your ex. The schedule should adapt to your lifestyles as parents, and it should be predictable for your children, something they can rely on. It will be long-term, until your children are grown. However, as your children age, you may have to tweak and adjust it a bit. That’s OK. Consistency doesn’t mean you can’t ever change the routine. It just means that your kids need to know they have a routine so they can settle into it and work their lives around it.
Asking your children to shuttle back and forth between homes every few days might be difficult for younger children, according to Robert E. Emery, Ph.D. Young kids are happiest when they can clearly identify their “home base.” However, if your children are a little older, you might consider three days with mom, three days with dad, with the seventh day being an alternating weekend day. This allows both parents “duty” time and “fun” time. They each have the opportunity to oversee homework and to help the children with their daily issues. They also each have a day of leisure with their children. Mom might have the children on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Dad might have them Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Every other week, Dad would keep the children an extra day and enjoy Saturday with them as well. Every other week, Mom would take the children a day early, on Saturday, so she could also enjoy that day with them. Courts are likely to agree to this sort of custody arrangement.
For some families, it works better and is less disruptive for the children if they spend one week with mom, then one week with dad. However, this may be hard on the children if their parents don’t live in close proximity to each other. If your daughter’s best friend lives next door to her mother’s house, she may be miserable spending an entire week with her father and not being able to see or play with her best friend. Courts are most likely to approve a parenting plan that makes the whole family happy and is in the best interest of the children, so a weekly arrangement might concern some judges.
Another alternative is to exchange your children on a monthly basis. This offers month-long consistency for the children, but it might be jarring for younger ones at month’s end when suddenly they find themselves living with their other parent after they’ve settled in with one parent. Courts usually encourage parents who elect this method to incorporate visitation into their parenting plans. The child’s home base might be with dad all month, but the child might still spend a weekend night or two with his mother and have dinner with her once a week. This pattern would then reverse between the parents' homes the next month.