A joint custody contemplates equal time for each parent with the children. We refer to it in the trade as a 50/50 schedule.
Now, that just boils down to counting the days. In a true joint custody agreement, each parent is spending 50% of the children’s time with the children. We can break that down any way we want. The easiest way to visualize is a week-on, week-off arrangement. Every Sunday, the kids move from one parent’s house to the other. However, we are only limited by our own creativity and what we think is best for the kids.
For younger children, a week away from a parent may not be the best thing for those children. So we are going to come up with a schedule that has more exchanges, but then allows less away time for a parent. We might have a two-three schedule-two days with mom, two days with dad, three days with mom and then we repeat the process, but two days with dad, two days with mom, three days with dad. We’re dealing with seven-day weeks. Seven is an odd number. So we are going to have to adjust to get to a true 50/50. But that’s what happens under a joint custody.
As the children grow and become a bit more mature, they become better able to be away from each parent for longer periods of time, so that’s when you start working on transitioning towards that week-on, week-off schedule.
We do know that the actual exchange, the transfer of the child from one parent’s house to the other, can be an emotional experience for the children. Even young kids would prefer that there be fewer exchanges, rather than more frequent exchanges. So one of the concepts that we’re dealing with is allowing the kids to be with each parent as much as is possible, but with as few transitions from one house to the other as is workable.
It’s really just a matter of creativity and being able to admit what is best for the kids, rather than what is best for you. We all love our kids, there’s no doubt about that. We all want to be with our kids 100% of the time. In a divorced family, that’s just not possible. So we spend a lot of time as family law lawyers getting our clients to appreciate that they focusing on what they need, not what their child needs.
John Harding is the principal of the law firm of Harding & Associates in Northern California. He practices family law litigation and divorce mediation exclusively.