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Father with 50/50 schedule now concerned about high number of exchanges between homes for 3 year old

Your Question:
My son's mother and I lived in my home until my son was a year and a half at which time she moved out. For the following year she lived in the same town as me and we agreed to share time with our son equally. About six months ago she could no longer afford to remain in her apartment with her 2 sons so she moved an hour away back into her parents house. Her older son, from her previous marriage, was granted through the courts to live with his father. She now sees him every other weekend. As far as my son goes, I still see him every other day and we rotate weekends. The problem is that my son, now 3 yrs old, is not adjusting well to when we "trade off." He has a melt down when we pick him up from the other's house. I feel that too many people are supervising him on any given day. For instance, on Wednesdays I drop him off at the babysitter's house. She brings him to preschool (2 days a wk) and then picks him up three hours later. Then my son's mother will pick him up from the babysitter when she is done working. I have tried to speak with my son's mother suggesting that I have him for during the week so he can go to preschool and then she has him Friday thru Monday, but she wants nothing to do with that arrangement. I want to keep him in preschool (which is in the town I live in) but I also want to reduce the time he spends in the car daily as well as the number of times he goes from me to his mother. Is it time to go to court? Should I file for sole custody? I have tried several times to work it out with his mother, but she becomes irrate and says "if you don't like the way it is then take me to court."

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My Answer:

I think you've laid out a legitimate concern with regard to too much travel and exchanges between homes that are an hour apart. A court would probably agree, and it'd be up to you to convince a judge that your plan is a reasonable solution for the concern.

I think you're making some unfair assumptions about the cause of the child's crankiness about transitioning between homes. I wouldn't suggest you pursue that argument, unless you have a child psychologist willing to testify about it.

So, it's up to you to present a plan that is in the child's best interest.

  • It's in the child's best interest that he have stability in his preschool environment, sure. But if he's only been in preschool for two months, a judge may consider that one near the mother is just as good, and not much time has past that the child is really enmeshed with the current preschool. Or the judge may agree that the current one is fine.

  • It's in the child's best interest to have consistent caretakers, sure. But a reality of being a single parent - often - is that one needs to hire a competent babysitter.

  • It's in the child's best interest to reduce the number of transitions between homes. You're doing every other day, plus alternating weekends? That amounts to more than 20 transitions per month?! Having to switch homes 20+ times a month would make ANY person cranky, not just a little kid.

It's going to be very important for you to lay out that you've done half the parenting of this child since his birth, and you're proposing that the new plan not vary far from the existing one. The court does not want to fix what isn't broken; and the only broken thing you've outlined is frequency of exchanges, NOT custodial timeshare in each home.

Though you want a M-F schedule, with mom having F-M, you'll want your weekends with the child too... especially when he starts kindergarten and it suddenly feels like you hardly see him during the day.

Instead, I suggest you consider proposing a plan like a 5-2-2-5. This means that he'd be with you for two consecutive weeknights (e.g., Monday 9am to Wednesday 1pm). He'll be with mom for two consecutive weeknights (e.g., Wednesday 1pm to Friday 3pm). Then you alternate the weekends (from Friday 3pm to Monday 9am). In this fashion, you'll five days in a row and she'll have two days in a row, then it switches the following week.

With that kind of approach, you reduce those 20+ exchanges down to only 8 per month! He'd likely do much better with that, being able to settle into each home.

Also, it's very fair to request that the receiving parent arrange for transportation of the child. So... if your custody time is about to begin, you pick up the child. If mom's custody time is about to begin, she picks up the child (or arranges for it via her family or babysitter).

This is the first step, mind you, to improving this child's life. If the arrangement works, and if mom can handle it, then all is well. If the arrangement doesn't work because mom can't handle it, then you'd seek another modification (perhaps 6 to 12 months later), if it's becoming evident that the little guy is really suffering due to the chaos in the mother's care.

As far as how to approach it, I suggest you get your case altogether, with affadavits and evidence. Get the forms all ready to file. If you wish to hire an attorney (which I strongly recommend, since it's possible this may BACKFIRE on you, if you don't present a strong case), then hire the attorney but don't leak any word of it to the mother.

Once you're ready to go to court, send an email to the mother, inviting her to join you in a mediation appointment to discuss your concerns and how to modify the parenting plan that is best for the child and fair to both parents. Request a reply within 24 hours. If she responds favorably, have the mediation appointment the day after that. Don't let more than a day go by... you don't want her to hire her own attorney and file something.

If she won't join you in mediation, or if she stalls for time, instruct your attorney to file everything immediately.

So... you give her the option of joining you at the table, or you immediately begin litigation if she refuses.

Good luck.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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