We blew it, so let's discuss our options now. When parents separate, we've failed in keeping the home together for the kids. This is the reality of a separation. NOTHING is an ideal substitute for raising kids in a healthy, happy marriage. After separation, we can only try to figure out the best option that is left available to us.
- It's imperative for the children's bond and involvement with both parents that the parents live within a reasonable driving distance. This allows the child to go back and forth without too much effort, and it keeps both parents connected to the kid. Do whatever you can to ensure both parents live in the same city.
- Always specify the exact begin time and end time per home. One segment of a schedule can be written as: "Children shall be in mother's care from 9am every Monday through 6pm every Thursday."
TRANSPORTATION AND EXCHANGES
- If your children are going to pass through a developmental step in coming years, where today's parenting schedule may not be ideal for the schedule in one or two years, consider outlining a step-up plan. You'd specify what the current plan will be. Then, you have language akin to, "Beginning upon the child's fifth birthday, the parenting schedule shall change to:" This approach will eliminate a trip back to court, which would otherwise be needed to modify the court orders.
- It's common that the receiving parent is responsible for transporting the children for an exchange between homes. This means that the parent beginning a custodial period picks them up.
- Most often, the exchanges occur at each home. If the parents tend to spontaneously argue upon sight of each other (or one parent is a bit volatile), you may wish to include language stating that the receiving parent will remain curbside, and the other parent will remain in the home. This gives a little buffer space that should keep the peace.
- If one parent is extremely volatile, consider having the exchanges at a public location where there are always witnesses (e.g., a coffee shop).
- If you've been the victim of violence, or if you've been falsely accused of a horrible crime, you may wish to consider having a police station as the exchange point. Weigh this carefully, as you'd be forcing your kids to go to the police station every time they have to see one of their parents. It's horrible, but in very extreme cases it's necessary.
TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS
- There is no conclusive research indicating that any age is too early for the child to sleep in both homes. There are many hypotheses on both sides of the issue. Ideally, the parents can communicate enough to keep bedtime routines the same for very young children.
- If the mother raises "breastfeeding" as an argument against the child sleeping in the father's home, the mother can pump breastmilk for the father to bottlefeed. It's not a valid argument.
- Come up with a schedule that keeps each parent in the baby's life as frequently as possible. Ideally, you want to get as close to daily contact (for each parent) as possible. Babies require frequency of contact to maintain and build a bond. Based upon child development research and findings, it appears that even four hours of parent/child contact daily would be more age-appropriate and beneficial for babies than a single 48-hour chunk weekly.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL KIDS
- Try to have quality time with each parent at least a few times each week, not going more than three days without the child seeing a parent. Again, this is appropriate for this age.
- At this age, reducing the number of exchanges starts to become more important-- which means greater chunks of time in each home; perhaps 24 to 48 hours at a time.
KIDS 12 YEARS AND OLDER
- Try not to go more than four or five days without the children spending quality time with both parents. If striving for comparable time in each home, if it appears that would best serve the children, consider having an alternating week schedule where the children return to the other home mid-week for an overnight. So... the children would be with the mother from Monday through Sunday, with the father having from Thursday after school until Friday morning back to school. The schedule reverses in the following week.
- Think about their activities, their preferences in each home, which home is close to their friends, and what schedule makes sense overall. Research indicates that most kids this age can do fine going a week in each home without detriment to the relationship with the other parent. Some kids alternate weeks between homes. Some kids spend Monday morning through Friday afternoon in one home, and then Friday afternoon through Monday morning in the other home. No schedule is right for everyone, so think hard about what works best in your situation.
NOTE: I've found what I consider to be two very good sources for high-quality parenting plans. One offers a set of downloadable plans that you can modify, the other lets you create a parenting plan online and modify it.
Both of the sites above have the same 'parent' company and have the same plans. The only difference is that the online version also lets you share revisions with guests (your ex, your attorney, etc). This may or may not be useful, depending on your circumstances.