There was a time when it was typical in custody schedules for children to have a primary residence with one parent and visit with the other coParent on an every-other-weekend rhythm. This arrangement still provides a model for post-divorce two-home families when it serves the needs of the children and coParents. What’s most important about a residential schedule, however, is that it reflects the coParents’ ability to love, care for, and remain engaged in their children’s lives.
Research supports that children do best when both parents work together, stay engaged, and participate in all aspects of parenting post-divorce. At the end of the day, the ideal parenting/custody schedule will be the one that fits your child’s unique needs best based on how far you live from your coParent, what both of your work schedules are, and what gives you the most quality time with them.
Custody Time Schedules – Primary
Primary schedules generally refer to schedules where children live in one home with one coParent for 11 or more overnights out of every two weeks. For kids, this results in a “home base” with one coParent and a predictable pattern of contact with the other. There are many good reasons for a primary schedule, which include accommodating a parent’s work schedule, a child’s particular need for stability, or parents’ shared value for a single home base for their children.
Custody Time Schedule – Shared
Shared schedules on the other hand, generally refer to schedules where children reside with both coParents four or more overnights in a two-week period. These schedules typically create an opportunity for children to feel “at home” with each coParent. Shared schedules are structured with enough time in each household to encourage resting in and participating fully—a home with each coParent rather than living with one and visiting with the other. An equally shared schedule would indicate that each coParent has seven overnights out of every 14 designated in a predictable rhythm.
We prefer “residential time” or “parenting time” as an update to the term “custody”. Ideally, during and after divorce, children are cared for by both coParents on an agreed-upon schedule (whether primary or shared), and neither parent has sole responsibility for the care and protection of a child, which custody more aptly describes. There are situations, however, where one parent is both primary and sole care-provider, though this is less and less common and generally is the result of complex adult challenges.
Editor’s Note: This is a revised excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book The Parenting Plan Handbook.