You may often hear that a parent going through divorce has a “standard” parenting plan with the children, which typically includes some weekday time in the form of a dinner visit and alternating weekend. However, with the landscape changing into a two-parent working model and increased demands on children’s academics and extracurricular schedules, many families are setting up 50/50 parenting arrangements. While these true shared parenting schedules may not be appropriate for every family, at a minimum, it is important to consider the following three factors when determining whether this structure is best.
With both parents spending considerable blocks of time with the children under a true shared parenting schedule, it is imperative that the parents have the ability to effectively communicate. While you do not need to be best friends with your former spouse, an agreed upon level of discourse needs to be established. I have found it helpful for my clients to limit the communication to only topics regarding the children and for the parties to select a preferred method of communication, such as test messaging or email. Additionally, with the growing pressures of children’s extracurricular activity schedule, social events and academics, I would strongly recommend an electronic calendar that allows joint access to keep track of such obligations. There are many great websites and apps that allow both parties access to the calendar to input appointments, school events or other obligations of the children so everyone can stay on the same page in regard to the children’s schedules and obligations.
Lastly, as the children will be sharing an equal amount of time in both households, it is an important tool for parents to communicate as to shared accolades and/or discipline for the children. For example, if your child received poor grades for a marking period, transferring the new study guidelines in both households will have a significant impact, as the child realize that mom and dad are on the same page. On the contrary, special achievements of the children should be celebrated in both households.
While the concept of allocating parenting time on an equal basis is appealing, I often find that parties going through a divorce are not realistic about their scheduling limitations associated with their employment and/or the schedule requirements of the children. For example, if you have a profession that requires you to work late or leave early for the morning commute, it may not be in the best interest of your children for you to engage a 50/50 plan. This is especially true if your spouse has a more flexible schedule and can spend time with the children during these blocks of time. More often than not, judges will award one parent time with the children over extended blocks of child care to cover the other’s work schedule. Prior to entering a shared parenting plan, it is also important to analyze whether or not you can ensure that the children’s activities will not be disrupted. If your child enjoys their 4:30PM Taekwondo class on Tuesdays and Thursdays, if you cannot honor this obligation, the children should not suffer because of your parenting demands. The focus should always remain on the children’s best interest and quality over quantity of parenting time should always remain at the forefront of any discussion.
Any parenting plan that lacks the flexibility to modify is destined to fail. While the need for a regular and systematic calendar is necessary for both the parents and the children, as your children get older and their priorities evolve, it is necessary to have periodic “check-ins” with your ex-spouse to determine whether or not the existing parenting plan is working. These review periods can be pre-established through your Marital Settlement Agreement or may occur naturally due to prevailing event, such as a change of a child’s school schedule. While it may be difficult to address a parenting arrangement that may remove some time that you have with the children, it is necessary to be self-reflective and keep an open mind as to what may be in the best interest of the children.
If you are considering entering into a 50/50 parenting time arrangement, the attorneys at Ulrichsen Rosen & Freed can help you prepare an effective shared parenting plan.