Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Seeking Equal Time with Kids -- Part 1

In both Collaborative divorces and litigated divorces, the phenomenon of a parent wanting equal time with the kids is becoming more common. Sometimes, both parents agree that it is an appropriate goal. In other cases, there is some disagreement as to how much time each parent should have. There's no automatic solution on how to divide time since it depends on many, many factors, including the history of the parties and the children. This post will assume the children are at least 3 years old, which is the most common situation. For younger children, we have a new Texas statute that we can look to for some ideas on what to do.

How to Split Time Equally There are many different ways to "equally" share time with the kids. In Texas, there is an extended standard possession schedule which is pretty close to 50-50, even though it may not seem that way. The non-creative way would be to follow the standard possession schedule, but that's usually not why people choose Collaborative Law. Some other ways include:
  • Week on, week off. This involves the children staying with one parent for 7 straight days and then moving over to the other parent for 7 straight days. Sometimes, there is a provision for weeknight contact once or twice during the week, but probably more often, it's just 7 uninterrupted days. This system is becoming more common, but whether it is a good fit with the parents and children depends on them and their needs and desires.
  • Month on, month off. This is not as common. When used, there's usually weekly access of some sort by the parent the kids are not currently staying with.

  • 2-2-3 (2 days here, 2 days there and a 3-day weekend alternating between parents). There is plenty of contact between the children and both parents. The parents get to be regularly involved with the kids on a predictable schedule which can make it easier for parents to adjust the work schedule. There is a concern, from the kids' point of view, that they are being moved around too much. Again, careful consideration should be given here as to whether this schedule benefits the kids or just primarily the parents (or one parent).

  • Every other day. There's frequent contact between both parents and the children, but at what cost? This usually seems like too much change when a child needs some stability.

  • Nesting. This is an interesting option that can rarely be done. It requires two parents who can't live together, but who live near each other and who trust each other enough that they can alternate sharing a residence. The children stay in the same residence all the time and the parents take turns (for a few days or a week) staying in the residence with the children and then moving out so the other parent can stay for the designated time. For the right couple, it can work pretty well.
Should You Try Equal Time?

1. The #1 consideration should be the effect the arrangement would have on the children. That calls for good judgment among parents, something that is often in short supply when the sensitive topic of time with the kids is being considered. Too often, there is a competition between the parents to "control" the kids by having as much time as possible. Instead, the parents should be thinking about what approach would benefit their kids the most.

2. Consider the parents' time available and abilities. Some parents have very difficult and changing work schedules which make it hard to plan ahead. In many relationships, each parent tends to take on more responsibility for certain aspects of child-rearing. That should be considered to the extent possible, but it is also possible, and often good, for parents to change their roles with the children.

3. The age of the children will often determine what is appropriate. Younger children require more time and hands-on attention. As kids get into school, they often need help with homework and with learning the discipline to study. They also still need to play and be involved in sports and extra-curricular activities. Teens, of course, are much less manageable. The time sharing needs to take into account all those factors and be able to adjust in the future.

How Should You Work it Out?

Use professionals. Don't just try to agree on something on your own. One of the great values of Collaborative Law is that you can have access to excellent neutral experts who can help you craft a plan for your kids that is appropriate for your circumstances the children's needs. Be sure to take advantage of what is available.

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