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Co-parenting: Creating the Perfect Parenting Plan

coParenting time schedules divide the children’s time between both parents. The right schedule is based on the physical and emotional needs of the children.
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Dr. Jann Blackstone
Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation

Co-parenting time schedules, or parenting plans, divide the children’s time between both parents. The right schedule is based on the physical and emotional needs of the children and should take into consideration the child’s temperament and ability to adapt to change. Although it is a child’s basic right to spend time with both parents and this may imply an equal custody share, there are some additional considerations when designing a parenting plan in the best interest of your child:

  1. How long have the parents have been apart?
  2. What is the child used to? (Has there been a primary parent recently?)
  3. Age of child.
  4. Special needs of the child: Physical limitations? Learning disabilities? Extra-curricular activities?
  5. Parents work schedules.
  6. Distance between parents’ homes.
  7. Distance to school or daycare from each home.

Parenting Time for Infants/Toddlers/or when a young child has not seen the other parent for a long time:

Unfortunately, not all parents have been in a relationship prior to a child being born or they decide to part soon after the birth of the child. In cases like this, parents often think it’s best to slowly introduce the non-custodial parent into the child’s life, but the exact opposite is actually true. Research tells us that when children are very young and forming their attachments, ongoing constant contact in the form of short visits that increase as the child gets older is best. A “step plan” easily achieves this goal, particularly when breastfeeding is a consideration and the child cannot be away from the mother for more than a few hours.

This step plan is a suggestion for an infant or very young child or when a young child has not seen the other parent for a long time. The times and frequency of visits can be adjusted as the child gets older or if the child is older when the step plan begins.

A typical step plan might be:

  • Step 1: (for approximately two/three months)
    Each Tuesday, Thursday and alternate Saturday
    2 to 3 hours each visit
  • Step 2: (for approximately two/three months)
    Each Tuesday and Thursday up to 4 hours, depending on work schedules and established bedtime. Alternate Saturdays for 6 to 7 hours (ie. 10am-5pm)
  • Step 3: (for approximately two/three months)
    Each Tuesday and Thursday up to 4 hours, alternate Saturdays for 6 to 7 hours.
    Add alternate Sundays 10am-5pm, immediately following already established Saturday.
  • Step 4: Each Tuesday and Thursday for up to 4 hours continue.
    Alternate Saturdays and Sundays become an overnight, Saturday 10 am – Sunday 5 pm
  • The final schedule is therefore:
    Tuesdays and Thursday 4 hour visits
    Alternate weekends Saturday 10 am overnight to Sunday 5 pm which eventually becomes Friday at 5 pm – Sunday at 5 pm as the child approaches 18 months to 2 years old.

This schedule is merely a suggestion. The child’s temperament and ability to cope with change should be taken into consideration as parents move from step to step and adjustments should be made accordingly.

Other Options Include:

  • Option 1:

    Every Other Weekend Plus Midweek Visit
    This particular plan works best when parents work during the week, live close enough to easily transport their children between homes (30 minutes, for example), and the majority of the parents’ free time is on the weekends. There is a “touchstone” day or dinner visit midweek so that parent and child do not go for ten days without seeing each other between their alternate weekend time together. As the child gets older, the mid-week visit can easily become an overnight with a return “to school” the next day.

  • Option 2:

    Every Other Weekend and Alternate mid-week blocks of time (2-2-3)
    This is an equally shared parenting plan for younger children (preschool age) that takes into consideration ongoing and frequent contact between parent and child is best for the child’s adjustment after his or her parents separate. Children live with each parent in two to three day blocks throughout the week. The alternating blocks of time ensure that children see both parents every few days and weekends can stay constant if that works best with the parents’ work schedule. Although the 2-2-3 plan is a set schedule, some younger children may not do well with constant transition and frequent exchanges can exacerbate parental friction. Parents should adjust days and times in the best interest of their child. This plan is especially effective when parents can remain cordial and conflict is kept at a minimum.

  • Option 3:

    Every Other Weekend With Split Midweek (2/2/5/5)
    When a child starts asking, “How many days until I go to Mommy or Daddy’s house?” it may be time to consider a fixed midweek parenting plan. Often referred to as a 2-2-5-5- plan, this parenting plan offers parents equal time with the child and works well when children are old enough to understand “time.” A parent can explain to a child (and to the child’s teacher or coach) that he or she is with Mommy on each Monday and Tuesday (drop off to school on Wednesday morning) and with Daddy on Wednesday and Thursday, (drop off to school on Friday). Alternate weekends are designated as Friday after school to Monday to school. Or, an arbitrary exchange time can be assigned on paper, say 8am, but parents agree on the true exchange times between themselves.When adding the scheduled alternate weekend to the assigned mid-week day, the child is then with each parent for five days straight. And, again, since there are frequent mid-week exchanges, this plan works best when parents can remain cordial when seeing each other.

  • Option 4:

    Every Other Week
    When children reach an age that school and extra-curricular activities make frequent exchanges troublesome, a full week with mom and a full week with dad works well. Friday is the most common day for exchanges because it gives the parent and child a weekend to get reacquainted, possibly do laundry, and prepare for the school week, but you can fine tune the exchange day to meet your children’s needs. It is also common to incorporate a midweek dinner visit into the plan so that parents and children do not go an entire week without seeing each other. Alternating weeks is the parenting plan suggested to parents who get along well, but is also a solution for parents who are extremely contentious. Parents who get along well can compare notes on a daily basis and coordinate efforts, however, because there is only one exchange per week, contentious parents can remain autonomous during the child’s time with them, keeping interaction brief and conflict to a minimum. Because older high school children often have additional social and extra-curricular responsibilities, transitioning between parents every other week may be quite disruptive. In this case, it’s not uncommon for parents to consider extending the transition to two-week blocks.

The coParenter app can help you create and modify a co-parenting time schedule from the comforts of your own home and have it synced to both parent’s phones, download today.

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