It’s a strange term to use for children. We generally speak of people charged with a crime as being “in custody” of the sheriff. Or of evidence taken in investigating a crime as being “in the custody of” the state police or FBI. The terms mean to be “in possession of something” which smacks of being too controlling, in my view, when speaking of one’s children! Here’s what you should know about custody and a better way to think about your children’s future.
A custody label -for that’s all it really is—in a divorce can cause more problems than it solves!
People often get caught up in the label and say, “I want custody of the kids.” What they usually mean is they want substantial time with their children in the divorce settlement. But did you know your schedule can provide that you have “custody” of your children but you only have parenting time one day per week? The label then is certainly not very meaningful.
Calendar-Driven Parenting Plans
It’s usually best to focus on time with your children and not a custody label. So, take out a blank calendar and look at time when mom is available on a weekly basis and when dad is available. Start there and first optimize the time your kids get to spend with each of you based on your availability and theirs.
Most often, both parents have weekends off and whatever they agree on for Monday through Friday, they alternate weekends. From there, define the weekend. Does it begin Thursday or Friday evening? Does it end Sunday evening or Monday morning?
Print several copies of a blank calendar like the below and talk through several options for how Monday through Thursday could be divided. Just put out options and only after you have 3-4, begin to evaluate, developing a pro/con list for each. Aim to continue parental divisions of labor where possible. For example, dad may have always taken the kids to gymnastics and mom always handled soccer. That can certainly be continued regardless of whose day those fall on.
See how little there is to figure out from there? If you have a practical focus—and give up focusing on possession (or custody) of your kids–you will develop a workable plan for you and more importantly your children.
Does the “Perfect Plan” exist?
There is no perfect plan that a child psychologist can hand you. Your kids’ and your needs differ from the next family’s. Most children respond quite well to a variety of schedules as long as it’s known to them, and it’s generally followed. Here are some helpful considerations based on the ages of your children from The Children’s Rights Council:
It is important for children, especially young children to have the emotional bonds that can only develop by spending time with parents. In general, the younger the child, the less time that should elapse without seeing both parents. The table below is based on recommendations from a variety of experts, but it should not be interpreted as a hard and fast schedule. Children develop and mature at different rates, and parents are best equipped to develop a schedule that provides their children time with both parents.
Recommended contact with both parents
< 1 year
Part of each day
Every other day
Not more than two days without seeing each parent
Alternate weeks, with the “off duty” parent getting a mid-week visitation for his/her off duty week.
If you would like to receive a complimentary table of various parenting plan options to get you started, email us at [email protected]
How to determine custody labels
Only after you have a calendar worked out are you ready to think about custody labels. There are two. Legal Custody refers to the right and responsibility to make important decisions about your children. Important decisions include education, medical/dental care, childcare, and religious practices. The court wants parents to continue to discuss such important matters and make those decisions together so Joint Legal Custody is appropriate in the vast majority of cases.
Physical Custody refers to time spent with children. If your kids will spend equal or near equal time with both parents, the parenting plan will be labeled Joint Physical Custody. If instead they spend substantially more time with one parent, that plan might be labeled Sole Physical Custody.[i]
This newsletter is intended to provide a basis on which to begin considering parenting time schedule options. For further reading, parenting and divorce coach Katie Zuverink recommends Ages & Stages: A Parent’s guide to Normal Childhood Development which you can find here: https://www.amazon.com/Ages-Stages-Parents-Childhood-Development-ebook/dp/B000SEOAZO/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1VBS9T2G2FPM0&keywords=ages+and+stages&qid=1680890508&s=digital-text&sprefix=ages+and+stages%2Cdigital-text%2C100&sr=1-1
There are many more considerations so before agreeing to anything, invest in a consultation with a family lawyer or a divorce coach. To schedule an appointment, email us at [email protected] or call: Berrien County: 269-428-3447; Kent and surrounding counties: 616-466-4131. Be sure to ask about our discounted initial consultation fee.
Besides considering how you will divorce, the plan you develop for your children is your most important decision. As always,
Wishing you wisdom,
[i] Did you know the law doesn’t actually require that you designate physical custody to one or both parents? It’s true! It’s become, sadly in my view, rather routine but you can simply forego this label, agree that you will have “joint legal custody and parenting time will be as follows.”