There are two perspectives to keep in mind: yours, as parents, and your children’s. Don’t jam your children’s lives into your schedule if you want to have a successful plan. You’ll run yourself ragged, and end up frustrating the children. Look at the natural schedules of your children, already in place, and see how you can fit into them. You will make them partners in your plan, in a way, because it seems like their plan.
Weekends are traditionally a change of pace for both you and your children. Assuming you work all week, you will have time on the weekends to spend with your children, who have time for you because they’re not in school. It’s a natural time for your children to move from one parent to the other for a few days or the entire week.
If regular weekends don’t coincide on your schedule and your children’s, look to see what works best. If you have Monday and Tuesday off, it usually makes more sense to have the children on those days than leave them alone while you’re at work on Saturday and Sunday.
Don’t limit the time the time you schedule with your children to the weekends. A few hours in the evening with your children is at least as valuable as the playtime on the weekends. You’ll be more involved in parenting with the day-to-day activities than in taking them to the park, the movies or the beach on the weekend. Your children may be old enough to take care of themselves after school. If they’re too young to be on their own, arrange quality after-school care. Start thinking like a single parent.
Don’t split your children up as part of a plan except perhaps in the case of older children who have very strong opinions about where they want to live. Continue to spend time with each of them alone occasionally; simply avoid breaking the family further apart unless there’s a reason that can’t be ignored. Your children are bonded to each other and fill important roles in each other’s lives.
Assume that your children are in grade school and you work from about eight to five each weekday. Your basic options for having the children include: (1) a week at a time changing custody each Friday evening, for example; or (2) every Sunday evening through Friday evening, plus every other weekend; or (3) every weekend; or (4) every other weekend. Whenever you’ll be away from your children for four or more days, try to schedule a visit with them for a few hours somewhere in the middle of the gap. If you can’t spend an hour or two with them, give them a telephone call.
Expand the basic weekend schedule when you want to include an extra day at the start, or end, or both. It’s easy to pick your children up Thursday night or keep them until Monday night. You’ll each get a slice of the other’s regular routine, and it doesn’t increase the number of trips back and forth.
Don’t expect your children to drag a suitcase to school when they’ll be staying with you. Make it easy on them by having what they will need while with you on hand. If necessary to transfer a lot of “stuff,” pick it and them up at the other parent’s home. When either of you pick up the children, let the other know about any special problems or schedule changes. However, this is not the time to discuss your problems with your ex-spouse.
Holidays should be shared as equally as possible. It’s not usually practical to split up each holiday; instead, alternate from year to year on the important days. Stagger them so the parent getting Thanksgiving doesn’t get the next holiday. If you remain in the same community, each of you may be able to see your children on their birthdays; if not, then start the practice of giving them two birthday celebrations.
You may be able to do even more to fill your children’s lives if you work together. If your extended family always celebrates Christmas Eve, for example, and your spouse’s family celebrates Christmas Day, why not take your children on the day traditionally more important to each of you?
Share the transportation burden equally to prevent one of you from developing hard feelings about always having to do the driving if you remain in the same community. Come up with a simple rule to keep it easy to remember. For example, the one beginning their time with the children picks them up from the other.
You probably have a tentative arrangement in mind. Does one parent have your children most of the time, while the other has them on weekends and for other visits? Give the parent with less time during the school year a block of time with the children during summer vacation. This will also give the other parent a much-needed vacation from the children. The parent getting this time doesn’t need to use the entire vacation with the children. He or she should have his or her own well-deserved, adult vacation. Work out the summer timetable well in advance so everyone, especially your children, will be able to make his or her plans and not miss anything.
The court’s own custody mediator is available for unbiased professional help with your plan, at no cost. Custody mediation is usually mandatory before the court will listen to any contested child custody or visitation issue. It’s also available on a voluntary basis; simply schedule an appointment with the mediator, without having to set a court hearing, if you need some non-emergency help.
Will the mediator conduct the session in confidence so you can feel free to give and take to resolve the conflict? Almost always. Unless you’re assured the mediator cannot be compelled to testify in court, you’ll have to be careful in what you say if it may be used against you in the courtroom. Because mediation without confidentiality doesn’t offer a true alternative to litigation, most mediation sessions are confidential. Make sure yours is confidential before you open your mouth, even if you’re just doing this on a call-in basis.