Couples with children who are going through a separation or divorce will learn some new terms such as “parenting plan,” “custody” and “visitation” (or “parenting time”). If you’re in this position, you probably have already determined the custody arrangement (how the caretaking responsibilities will be shared), and hopefully made most of the important decisions that need to be part of a parenting plan. Now you must tackle visitation — the plan or schedule for how time with the children will be shared. Basically, this means who gets the children when, where, and for how long.
It’s an important step but one that can be confusing, because there are many moving parts to figure out. Some divorcing couples may decide to keep it open-ended when it comes to visitation details, but that sort of arrangement can only work if parents get along, communicate well and are flexible. Most parents find a clearly defined schedule works best. There are many variations to visitation schedules, but here are a few typical or popular schedules for sharing parenting time.
One schedule that is simple and easy to follow is the every weekend plan, generally for a 50/50 custody split. One parent has physical custody during the week (time spent in school is excluded from physical custody time), and then the other parent has the weekends, allowing each parent approximately the same amount of custodial time with the children. The two main problems with this schedule are that one parent never gets weekend time and the other never sees the kids during the week. However, it’s a consistent method.
Another option for parents implementing a 50/50 custody split is the 2-2-3 visitation schedule. The children stay with one parent for the first two days of the week, and then the other parent has the kids for the next two days. Finally, the kids go back to the first parent for a three-day weekend. This is an alternating schedule, so the first two days of the next week will start with the parent who did not have the first two days the week before, thus each parent gets the kids for a long weekend every other week. A 3-4 split variation can also be done on this same idea.
This is a schedule where the kids reside with a custodial parent during the week and spend every other weekend with the non-custodial parent. Or the kids can alternate households for a 50/50 split in time.
Alternating Weekends with an Evening or Overnight Mid-week
The custodial parent has the children during the week, and the non-custodial parent has them for one evening or overnight a week in addition to the alternating weekend time.
Alternating Extended Weekends
Similar to the alternating weekend schedule, with the exception that the weekend extends through Monday. For example, a weekend visit starts at 6:00 p.m. on Friday and ends on Monday at 6:00 p.m. This plan can be varied with a mid-week evening or overnight.
1st, 3rd, and Alternating 5th Weekends
This plan is easier to schedule ahead than the alternating weekends option, but one drawback is that there are only a few months in a year that have five weekends. Of course, a mid-week visit can be added into the schedule, whether just for the evening or overnight. Extended weekends can also be used with this plan.
Coming up with a parenting schedule that works for everyone isn’t easy. It’s important to keep the age of the children, their school locations and activities, even the distance between parents’ homes in mind during the creation of a visitation schedule. Don’t forget to figure in all the holidays that are important so there’s less disappointment or conflict during this time. Also remember as children age, the schedule will need to change to work best. Plan to revisit and revise it often.
As you can see, there are no limitations in sharing parenting time. The trick is to keep track of where the kids are supposed to be and with whom, with a large dose of flexibility and patience to make the transitions back and forth between two homes easier.
Fortunately, there are apps for co-parents that can help organize two separate households and keep everyone connected. If you’d like to read a more in-depth discussion of making your visitation decisions, the Supervised Visitation Network has a pamphlet that may help: “A Parent’s Guide To Making Child-Focused Visitation Decisions.”
Co-parenting can start on a positive note by working out the specifics of a visitation schedule early on. Now’s the time to focus on what is best for the children. They can live healthy, happy lives in two separate households, starting now.