In recent years, there has been a definite shift toward parents wanting to have equal parenting time with their children after a divorce. In fact, many states have already adopted co-parenting as the default arrangement in child custody cases, putting the burden of proof on either party to show that this arrangement is not in the best interests of the child. While 50/50 parenting may sound great in theory – the children get to be with both parents for an equal amount of time during the year – in practice, it may not always be the best arrangement for the parties involved.
Equal parenting is a wonderful concept, and proponents of this arrangement are well-intentioned. The idea behind it is that kids are always better off when both parents are heavily involved in their lives. And 50/50 parenting seeks to replicate, as much as possible, what it would have been like for the children had the parents stayed together.
There are unintended consequences of the co-parenting arrangement, however, and careful consideration needs to be given to each family’s unique circumstances before going down this road.As a divorce mediator, I work very closely with my clients to thoroughly examine all important factors to help determine if this arrangement really makes sense for their situation.
How does 50/50 Parenting Time Work?
Many people wonder what a 50/50 co-parenting schedule looks like. There are actually a variety of schedules that parents can implement, depending on what works best for everyone. Some examples of 50/50 parenting schedules include:
- Alternating Weeks: Children spend one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent, with the handoff usually occurring at the beginning of the weekend (late Friday or Saturday morning).
- Alternating Every Two Weeks: Children spend two consecutive weeks with one parent, then the next two weeks with the other parent.
- 3-4-4-3 Schedule: Children spend three days of the week with one parent and four days of the week with the other, then alternate the following week.
- 2-2-3 Schedule: Children spend two days of the week with one parent, two days with the other, then go back to the first parent for the final three days of the week. The next week it alternates.
- 2-2-5-5 Schedule: Children spend two days with each parent then five days with each parent then back to two days with each parent, and so on.
These are just a few examples of schedules parents may use in a co-parenting arrangement. There are numerous variations of these and others that can be implemented. Some parents are even choosing to have their children live at the same residence all the time while they are the ones alternating back and forth between residences.
Problems with 50/50 Parenting Time
One of the driving forces behind the 50/50 parenting movement is the idea that both parents have an equal right to be involved in the lives of their children. Unfortunately, the assertion of “parents’ rights” can sometimes detract from the most important objective of child custody arrangements; to always do what is in the best interests of the child. Put another way, just because you can do something, does not always mean you should do it.
Here are a few scenarios in which a 50/50 parenting schedule would not always be best for the parties involved:
- Children with Special Needs: For children who have physical and emotional issues, such as autism, ADHD, anxiety, or similar issues, it may not always be best for these kids to transition back and forth between parents.
- Parents who Live a Significant Distance from Each Other: Another common issue that presents difficulty with 50/50 parenting is when children have to travel a long distance between the residences of the two parents. This can become further complicated when deciding which school the kids should attend (when parents live in different school districts), which activities the kids want to be involved in, etc.
- When One Parent Travels A lot: If one parent does a lot of traveling for work, this can make it more difficult to come up with a consistent 50/50 parenting schedule, especially when the traveling parent does not always know when their business trips will be scheduled.
Determining the Best Interests of the Children through Mediation
Though 50/50 parenting arrangements can work well in some instances, there are other cases in which it is not the best approach. For parents, it is important to focus on the needs of their children, rather than asserting their “rights” or meeting their own emotional or financial needs. There is no “one size fits all” approach that is best for everyone, and this is where mediation can be very helpful.
With divorce mediation, parents work together in a cooperative rather than combative environment to reach the settlement that works best for them. This helps eliminate the “I win you lose” mindset, shifting the focus to win-win settlements that benefit everyone. And with the mediation process, parents are in control of the final outcome, rather than the courts. This allows them to come up with more unique and creative approaches that better fit their specific situation.