There are many factors that play a role in determining how to create a timesharing schedule. It is important to consider many different aspects in creating a timesharing schedule, and how all of them will actually play out in real life. Many times parents make a schedule with all the right intensions, but realize shortly after how difficult the plan can be to implement. Further, modifying the timesharing schedule is not an easy task; therefore, it is very important for parents to think it through thoroughly the first time. Below are some thoughts that parents should consider when creating a timesharing schedule.
- Child’s Best Interests
The Court will not approve a parenting plan or timesharing schedule if they do not find that it is in the child’s best interest. If parents agree to a timesharing schedule, the courts will often give some weight to the fact that parents are going to be the most familiar with their family’s dynamics, and thus better at knowing what it is best. However, as stated, it must be in the child’s best interest, looked at through the child’s eyes. A schedule that rotates every day, for example, would likely be very disruptive in a child’s life. Therefore, even if the parents find the schedule to be in their child’s best interest, if the court disagrees, they may decide to not approve it. It is the court’s intention that children are raised in loving homes with nurturing parents, and therefore, will approve or deny timesharing schedules and parenting plans accordingly.
- Work Schedules
It is very easy for parents to immediately claim they want majority timesharing of their children, but it is important to really sit back and picture what that looks like. For working parents, sometimes majority timesharing can be really easy. This is especially true if there are other children in the household with an established routine. However, it can also be very challenging for parents who have to leave work to go pick their kids up from school, and then go back to work, or for parents who have to send their child to after school programs, or hire a nanny to watch them until they get home from work. This is not to say that working parents should spend less time with their children, but it can be an opportunity to consider the quality of the time with their child over the quantity of time with their child. If a parent’s work schedule results in someone else, other than them or their other parent caring for their child a majority of days, it may be worth rethinking how important ‘majority’ or 50/50 timesharing is to them.
It is well known that courts take the age of the child into consideration when establishing timesharing schedules. This is especially true when the child is just a year or two old, and is still dependent on the mother for many of his or her needs. However, this stage does not last forever. It can be important if you have young children to consider creating a timesharing plan that evolves as the child ages. Many timesharing schedules will set forth schedules for children when they are infants, as well as alternative schedules for when they are no longer dependent on the mother, and then another schedule for once they begin school. This helps resolve any conflicts that may arise in the future in regards to debating the intention of the original timesharing plan, as well as sets expectations for both parents.
- Family Routines
Every family is going to have their own set of routines and traditions, and where possible, couples should consider creating a parenting plan that accommodates those events. Consider if one family has a certain celebration they have every year such as grandpa’s birthday, or a certain family vacation they like to take, this could be taken into consideration when deciding which days to allocate ahead of time, and therefore it does not become a conflict year after year. Although this can sometimes be difficult to predict, even including vague language or agreeing to priority of these events in the parenting agreement can be helpful (Example: “…each couple gets two uninterrupted weeks during summer vacation, however, “X Event” takes priority over either parent’s week, as long as the other parent is given “specified time period” advanced notice”). Again, if parents are creating their own agreement, they have a lot of flexibility in what they may agree to.
- Parents’ Birthdays
Your attorney is going to ask you about birthdays when creating your timesharing schedule, including your birthday and your former partner’s birthday. It can seem almost natural for parents to want to ‘claim’ that day on the timesharing schedule. Mostly, it is because at the time, it seems like the right thing to do, especially when children are young. Additionally, many parents look at it as ‘a bonus’ day with their child. However, it may be important to consider what your birthday actually looks like. Do you throw big family celebration with your children each year on the actual day of your birthday? Or do you perhaps wait until the weekend after? Do you typically like to have alone time with your significant other on your birthday? Many parents will allocate the day or a few hours with their child on their birthday, without realizing that this may actually result in driving a child back and forth from school, to dinner, and then back to their other parent’s house. Most children don’t have a preference when they celebrate their parent’s birthday anyway, and sometimes this schedule can become more of disruption of the child’s weekly routine than a benefit for them. And, if we’re being honest, seeing an ex-spouse or partner doesn’t always make for an ideal birthday either. This doesn’t mean parents need to miss out on celebrating with their kids. Parents can instead request an extra day the weekend following or leading up to their birthday, if that would be more beneficial for both parent and child. It is a completely personal preference, but definitely something to consider.
- Kid’s Birthdays
A highly fought over day on the timesharing schedule is the child’s birthday. Every parent wants to claim their child’s birthday, or a few hours in the day, or the weekend before or after. It is very normal to want to see your child on their birthday. It can be very difficult to cope with not feeling like you get to celebrate your child’s birthday with them. However, there are many parenting plans that will at least allocate a certain amount of hours to do something after school with them, or go out to dinner together if it is not your timesharing day. Alternatively, a parent may request that if they do not have the actual birthday with the child, that they are allocated the following weekend, or other time to celebrate with the child. In families that are more amicable, it may be worth attempting to celebrate their child’s birthday together each year.
- Mental Fitness of Parents
As stated above, the child’s best interests come first. Because of so, the mental health of the parents is very important to consider when creating a timesharing schedule. In many cases, the court will approve schedules that limit timesharing for a parent who is not currently ready to take on the full responsibility of parenting, but where there is hope in the future. For example, parents who struggle with aggression or abuse may start with supervised visitation, but this may change after they seek appropriate counseling. Or, parents who struggle with sobriety may be limited in the contact with their children until they complete a course, or enroll in a program like SoberLink. Courts understand that not everyone is perfect, but if there is a showing of potential harm to a child based on mental fitness, they will consider placing safeguards in a parenting plan.
- The Door Swings Both Ways
It is important to consider when creating a timesharing schedule, that the door swings both ways, and because the courts typically start at a 50/50 timesharing schedule, whatever you request, the other parent may also request. For many parents, this is not an issue. However, when parents start requesting extra days for certain vacations, birthdays, three day weekends, and so on, the other parent will have the chance to request the same. Therefore, if you request that your child has an overnight with you on your birthday, do not expect that the other parent will settle for a couple of hours on theirs. It is important to be fair and reasonable, because when it comes to agreeing on a schedule, both parties will get a say.
- Look at the Long Term and Big Picture
Timesharing schedules are modifiable, however in order to have a timesharing schedule modified by the court, there must be a permanent, substantial and unforeseen change in material circumstances. Therefore, it is important when making your schedule to not think about just today, but to think about days going forward. ‘Unforeseen’ is a difficult word to define, and it will be up to the court to decide what truly was ‘unforeseen.’ Were more children ‘unforeseen’? Was a new relationship ‘unforeseen’? Was returning to work, or quitting a job ‘unforeseen’? It is important when you sit down and create a timesharing schedule that you consider what your future looks like, and consider more than what will ‘fit’ or ‘work’ within that life, but what will actually be better for the child, and better for you.
- Parents Need Breaks Too
We cannot stress this enough. So many parents want all the weekdays, weekends, and holidays with their children. This is sometimes because they truly don’t think their former partner is a good parent, but more commonly it is because they want to make sure their child feels loved at all times. However, parents need breaks too. Raising a child was not a responsibility that was ever meant to be to be taken on alone, and it is okay to acknowledge that. If you feel like a weekend or two off a month, that your child can spend with their other parent, will help you relax and regroup for the week, request that. If squeezing in an extra day per week with your child causes you excessive or unnecessary stress, consider the importance of spending quality time with your child over just quantity of time. Ultimately, if you are more relaxed, you are going to be able to be a better parent and more present for your child, and that is not only okay, but is also encouraged.
If you are considering filing for divorce, establishing paternity, or looking to modify a timesharing schedule, we encourage you to reach out to our team of family law attorneys. We have handled hundreds of cases dealing with timesharing, and can help you come up with a plan that works for everyone in your family.