One of the biggest issues I deal with in divorce mediation is parenting time when creating a parenting plan. Couples often come to me seeking a 50/50 parenting time schedule, where the divorcing spouses have joint custody and each parent has the children for 50% of the time. The most common manifestation of this arrangement is alternating weeks.
For example, over the course of four weeks, the children stay with Mom for weeks 1 and 3, and Dad for weeks 2 and 4. The exchange is typically made on a Saturday or Sunday so the kids can prepare for the week ahead.
A less typical 50/50 arrangement would be the kids alternating every couple days between parents. Most couples do not choose this route, however, because it becomes far too chaotic to shuffle the kids back and forth during the school (and work) week.
Couples in divorce mediation often seek a 50/50 parenting time schedule because the idea of the children having time to bond equally with both parents sounds appealing. Couples also like the idea of shared responsibility and each parent contributing equally to provide the children with food, clothing and shelter.
Though the 50/50 parenting schedule is a good idea in theory, it does not always work well in practice. Here are some potential drawbacks to this arrangement:
Some Children find it Difficult to Adapt to Dual Primary Residences
In general, children like to have one place they call “home”; one place where they can keep their belongings, go outside and play with friends, etc. And while children are typically adaptable and able to handle with this type of change, some may have difficulty dealing with it.
Inconsistent Parenting Styles May not be Good for Children
One issue many couples fail to consider is the mixed messages children receive because of different styles of parenting. For example, the rules at Mom’s house may be far stricter than at Dad’s house (or vice versa). After a while, this could create major conflicts between the parents about which way is best to raise the kids. Let’s face it, married couples have different parenting styles but once couples are divorced this can be an issued which will bring about a lot of conflict.
Over Time, Geography can become a Major Issue
Immediately following a divorce, it is typical for one parent to stay in the current home and the other to move into an apartment or house nearby. This makes it fairly easy to transfer the kids back and forth each week. Circumstances could change quickly, however, and Dad or Mom may suddenly have to move across town or out of state for a new job or other life change. Suddenly, the 50/50 parenting schedule becomes a major headache for the adults because of the long weekly commutes. This can also become very disruptive in the children’s daily lives.
The Needs of the Children Change as they Grow Older
As kids get older, they become involved in sports and other types of extra-curricular activities. It is difficult enough for parents to plan their schedules around these activities even without having to worry about transferring them every week.
During divorce mediation sessions, I bring up some of the issues with the 50/50 arrangements parents may not have previously considered. I understand why parents want this arrangement and the value of each parent having equal time with the kids. In some cases, however, this schedule may not be the best long-term solution for the children.
In such cases, I work with parents to develop an alternate arrangement that both spouses find acceptable. I also try to help couples understand that equal time does not always mean quality time, and that it is not always necessary to have the children exactly 50% of the time to foster a strong relationship.
For example, there are times when one parent is willing to trade bi-weekly parenting time during the school year for a significant block of time during the summer. This gives both parents ample quality time while providing more stability for the kids during the school year.
When couples come into divorce mediation with an open mind and cooperative spirit, we are usually able to craft practical and innovative solutions that satisfy both parents and are in the best interests of the children.