When it comes to divorce or separation, often one of the hardest tasks that you can sit down to do is create a custody schedule. There are a lot of layers to it, which can include court orders, work schedules for both co-parents, and the kids’ own schedules. There is a lot of juggling that can be done just to iron out a schedule and keep it running on the day to day, whether you are running through a co-parenting app, such as 2houses, or through a basic calendar. In this article, we will go through some key points to creating a custody schedule that works for your family.
Step One: Map out Schedules
The first thing that you should do is write out, or map, the schedules of everyone involved. Your work schedule, your ex-partner’s work schedule and then the kids’ school schedules. Add in any extra curricular activities that you, your partner or kids have on a weekly basis. Also be sure to add in any vacation time that you know about. This might have to added later or revised on a yearly basis, but if you know now, put it in.
While it may seem a bit daunting writing this out before you even set up the schedule, having everything at hand when you create a custody schedule will help it go smoothly without as many last minute changes to the schedule when you realize something was forgotten. That isn’t to say that things won’t be forgotten, or even added depending on the time of year, but having the majority of it will make planning go smoother.
Step Two: Discuss the Joint Activities
Although we often think of custody schedules as two houses having separate time with the kids, this isn’t always the case. For instance, before the separation, one parent may be volunteering as a soccer coach, which means that every weekend, whether it is their weekend or not, they will be seeing the kids. Or maybe there is a regular event that both parents always attended, such as swimming lessons, and you want to keep that same routine for the kids.
In the event of these joint activities, you need to look at how it will go work logistically. Will you schedule transitions after the event? For instance, you go to the soccer game at 10am every Saturday but there is a weekend visitation with the other parent. Do the kids stay at their primary residence on Friday night and just go to the game with their primary caregiver before leaving with the other parent, or would they come in with the other parent after leaving for visitation the night before?
Step Three: Think of Logistics
Once you have the loose schedule made, think about the logistics. Some activities might be closer to you than to your ex-partner so it may be easier to create visitation days around those activities for logistics. For instance, if music class is 10 minutes from your house but 45 minutes from your ex-partners every Thursday evening, you may want to shift a 50/50 arrangement so that you always have the child on that Thursday evening so there is less rushing to do for the other parent and vice versa.
It may seem like a minor thing but not having to lose a lot of one on one time with your kids through thinking of the kids’ activities in relation to where everyone is living will actually build a positive relationship. Everyone will feel like they are getting ample quality time with the kids, regardless of how busy the schedule is.
Step Four: Explore the Custody Agreement
If you have drafted a custody agreement, or it has been court ordered, make sure you explore the ins and outs of it to meet the agreement. This will help prevent any problems in the future with custody agreements and will also give your kids a lot of stability.
If there are set days of the weeks in the court agreement, you’ll have to stick to that, unless there is room for adjustments if both parents agree. If the agreement is down to numbers such as 50/50, 40/60, etc., you can simply plan the schedule so it works best with everyone’s schedules, including choosing time when parents have days off to possibly reduce expenses of childcare or to have those full days with the kids.
One thing to note, if you have people who do pick up and drop off, or after school childcare, make sure you factor that into the schedule as well since they will be an important part of your support team as co-parents.
Step Five: Discuss the Schedule with Your Kids
This varies depending on the age of your kids but, if they are old enough, take the time to discuss the schedule with them. I always recommend discussing this when the schedule has been drafted and take their thoughts into consideration. On things that can be changed to reflect their needs and wants, make those changes. On things that can’t be changed, sit down and discuss why it can’t be changed and why it was decided to work in this manner.
Unfortunately, kids may not like all the things in the schedule but knowing that they’ve been heard and considered really does help them with accepting the schedule.
Step Six: Test Drive that Schedule
Once you have finished drafting the schedule, it’s time to test drive it. This varies depending on the family, but I always recommend testing it for 1 to 3 months. Make note of what works, what doesn’t work and what things could use some refining. A great way to do this is through a communication journal.
Every month, go over what was working and can stay, what still needs to be looked at and what needs to be changed completely. By doing this, you can really set the schedule so it works for your kids. Even after you have it fine tuned, take the time every 6 months or so to go through the schedule and adjust it by what has changed you may even have to do it more than every six months with changing activities through the year, changes to work and so on. If there is a major change, review the schedule and adjust as needed. By following these steps, you can create a schedule that not only works for your family but is tailored to its unique and individual needs. And creating a working custody schedule will also help in building a positive co-parenting relationship between you and your ex.