In today’s post, I’ll continue to share ideas on how to develop a custodial schedule in your parenting plan. Once you have the decision-making portion of the parenting plan developed, have agreed on some of the objectives and conceptual details about custodial time, you might stumble when creating a calendar, due to unique problems in your family. In this post, we’ll address some of the challenges I’ve seen parentings struggle with and how they’ve resolved them.
- The parent who has long shifts. Sometimes, especially in health care and law enforcement, parents work long shifts. Typical custodial schedules don’t work with 12-hour shifts. Sometimes, the 3-4 or 4-3 schedule does work, especially when the employer provides the work schedule to the parents in advance. Parents meet monthly or quarterly and create a schedule for the next period consistent with their work schedules. Many parents use a shared calendar, such as a Google calendar to maximize the time that the children are the parents and are not in child care.
- The parent who has a flexible work schedule (that they can’t control!) Parents can find it challenging to work with flexible work schedules that employers do not provide well in advance. This situation requires cooperation between the parents. Parents can allocate custodial time in a schedule that works most of the time, and also builds in some flexibility. Regular meetings to review each week's schedule in person become more important to be sure that there is not a miscommunication.
- Traffic! DC has some of the worst traffic in the country. If one parent commutes, it can be tough to predict times to exchange the children for a custodial period. Two things are important here. (1) Don’t plan to meet someplace if the time is unpredictable. Meet at one house or the other. That way when a one parent is delayed, no one is sitting in a parking lot waiting. (2) Be sure to let the other parent know as soon as possible when you are running late. Text them or use the Waze app so that they can track your progress. Good communication is critical!
- Brothers and sisters. Please don’t make assumptions that the children should always or never be together. Think about it, talk about it. Sometimes parents assume that all brothers and sisters should live together 24/7. While this arrangement could be best during some periods for your children, it might not be. Some children benefit from one-on-one time with each parent. Parents need to consider all possibilities when creating the schedule.
- Step brothers and sisters. Same issue. It might be great to have times when the blended family can be together, but your children might also benefit from some time alone with you, without sharing your attention. This plan can require more thought and planning, but work heard to consider what is going to be best in the long run.
- “The children say that they want to live with me!" In mediation, some parents tell me that the only reason that they are advocating a position is that it is what the child wants. If you find yourself saying feeling this way, I urge you to work with a family counselor. Generally, you should never ask the child where they want to live. If the child volunteers that information, let them know that you’ll talk with the other parent and be sure that the child’s wishes are shared. However, this is an adult parenting decision that the parents need to make. If you find yourself having this discussion with your child, attend family counseling to work on boundaries and parenting. If you are not sure about what happens when you put your children in the middle, watch this video, Spare the Child, produced by the Virginia State Bar.
- A parent who is not available due to illness or incarceration. What if the other parent is too sick to care for a child? Is incarcerated? Or can’t take care of the child overnights, ever. What then? The other parent is going to have them at their house most of the time. But the trick with this parenting schedule is to figure out how to maximize the contact between that “unavailable” parent and the child. Just because the parent is out of sight, it is usually not a good idea for the parent to be entirely out of mind. What can be done to arrange for some in-person contact? Telephone calls? Letters? What can the parent with the child most nights do to prevent the child from feeling abandoned? Are there relatives of the parent who is not available who might be able to help? Again, this is not about anyone’s rights. It’s about what’s good for you children.
Whether you are working with a mediator, with your collaborative attorneys, or on your own, once you have worked through the decision-making part of your plan and how to share custodial time, you will be ready to work on holidays and vacation. In my next post, I’ll share some ideas on how you can divide those to maximize the time that your children spend with their parents, carry on important traditions and create beautiful childhood memories.