This is part 2 in a 3 part article discussing options for developing parenting plans. Our aim is for this to be helpful both when you are separated and getting a divorce or when you are already divorced and looking into changing your existing parenting plan for one reason or another.
Creating The “Standard” Parenting Time Plan
Part 1 addressed the issue of a parenting plan for summer vacation, now this part will address a parenting plan for the normal school year. This is what we often refer to as the “normal” or “standard” parenting time portion of your order because most of the calendar year is covered under this plan. This portion of the plan typically covers all time not carved out for a specific holiday or summer period.
As this part of your parenting plan applies for most, if not all of your calendar year, it often is the most important. Many of you likely have friends who have a standard “every other weekend parenting plan”. This is where the non-custodial parent gets the kids every other weekend from Friday after school until Sunday evening. For many years this plan was the normal plan ordered by most judges. Many counties in Oregon even published a version of this in their court rules and called it the “standard parenting plan”.
This was the case until studies began demonstrating that this is not the best plan for parties to follow. Over the last several years, there has been a strong push by the courts and by psychologists who study this issue to increase the amount of time the children spend with the non-custodial parent.
The preferred parenting plan now seems to vary depending on the ages of the children. For families with children under 3 years of age or so (every child and family is different mind you), it has been found that frequency is more important than length of visits. That means it is far better for these young children to not go very long without seeing either parent. Ideally this would mean that young children get to see both parents every single day.
With that said, we all know that many family dynamics don’t allow this. If there is domestic violence between the parties, if work schedules don’t allow it, or if they just can’t get along well enough to allow daily interaction, then this “ideal” daily visit plan would need to be modified to fit your specific needs. However, keep in mind when crafting your parenting plan for young children it is better for the kids not to go a very long period of time without seeing the other parent. For these kids, an every other weekend plan is a terrible idea, at the very least you’ll want to add in a few lunch or dinner visits every week for the non-custodial parent, if at all possible.
For children who reach school age, a modified every other weekend plan seems to be currently in favor. This often gives the non-custodial parent every other weekend from Thursday after school until Monday morning, coupled with a weekly dinner visit on the off-week when they won’t have any overnights. Some people turn this weekly dinner visit into an overnight with the kids, allowing them perhaps to spend every Thursday night at the non-custodial parent’s home for instance.
Unless the parents get along really well, it is generally not a great idea to do a 50/50 split of overnights. Something like a 60/40 split outlined above seems to be preferred nowadays by the researchers and judges.
As children get older, going into their teenage years, developmentally they are more able to adapt to a 50/50 split of parenting time. However, by the time the kids reach their teenage years, they often are going to express their own opinions, often quite strongly, as to where they want to live. Some parents choose to honor their children’s opinions, some want to avoid giving children too much authority. I find in my experience, the families who give their teenagers too much authority or power to decide who they want to live with end up suffering for it. Even though your teenagers may act like adults sometimes, they still lack the maturity usually to make healthy decisions. I advise parents to find a plan that they think is best, and tell their teenagers what that plan is rather than bending to the will of their kids. I know, sometimes this is easier said than done though.
With all of that said, every family and every child is different. Here are a few examples where your situation might warrant doing something different than what I’ve laid out above.
1. How should you create a parenting plan with children of different ages?
2.Your parenting plan considerations might change because of domestic violence concerns.
If there is a history of domestic violence or safety concerns, then the obvious answer is to limit the amount of exposure the children have with the dangerous environment or dangerous parent. Sometimes this means visits need to be supervised, sometimes it just means the exchanges need to be at a public place. However, this does not mean that if there was a single incident where an argument became a little bit physical, that the abuser needs to forever have their parenting time limited.
Every case is different, but it is important to objectively analyze the actual safety risk to the children of being around the other parent. Some parents have a hard time distinguishing between a different parenting style, and a safety risk. Parenting time should only be limited if there is a genuine risk of harm to the kids, not just because the parents have different styles of communicating. Often this is where telling your divorce attorney your concerns with specific details and letting them advise you can be helpful.
3. Another consideration for a parenting plan is if your child has special needs.
If your child has special needs, then both parents will need to work hard to accommodate those needs and fashion a plan that fits your children’s situation. Every child and every family is different, so feel free to be creative in fashioning your own parenting plan that fits your needs although this is probably best done with the help of a family law attorney because they can foresee problems a layperson may not.
As is often the case with family law matters, every situation is different and needs a bit of thought and work to make it function well for all parties involved. We feel that when kids are involved in a divorce they are a highly important factor and it is important to look at the current research to inform the parenting plans even though this can be difficult. It is also always important to make sure the best solution for the situation is found and we strive to make that happen in all of our custody cases be it an uncontested and peaceful one or a contested one with tensions running high.