A visitation schedule specifies the days and times a child will be in the custody of each parent. Your state might have a different name for this, like “possession and access schedule,” or “parenting time schedule.”
Parents can agree on a visitation schedule or let the judge decide. In the latter case, it’s common for the court to ask each parent to propose the schedule they believe will work best.
A day-to-day schedule is required, plus schedules for summer break, vacations, and holidays.
You could have either sole or joint physical custody. Sole physical custody has the child living primarily with one parent and visiting the other parent. Joint physical custody gives both parents significant and frequent time with the child.
Keep in mind that the amount of time your visitation schedule designates to each parent can determine how much child support you pay or receive and who gets to claim the child on taxes.
There are many schedule types and ways to adjust them for your family. The following are just some of the factors you should consider when building a visitation schedule.
Things to Consider when Building a Visitation Schedule
Your Child’s Age
Your schedule should suit your child’s age, ability, and needs. Read through the breakdown of age groups below.
Newborns and infants (0 to 18 months)
At this stage, familiarity and comfort are important. The child should spend time with both parents, but it’s best to limit their time away from their primary caregiver.
Suitable visitation schedules for a newborn consist of daytime visits only. For example, the parent who is not the baby’s primary caretaker could get a few two-hour visits each week. As the baby transitions to solid foods and needs less nap time, the visits can become more frequent and longer.
At this stage, you should avoid overnight visits since they can disrupt the baby’s feeding and sleep schedule.
Toddlers (19 months to 3 years)
Toddlers adapt best to schedules that are predictable — in other words, repetitive. They become attached to each parent, so they should be able to spend time with them frequently.
One option is to give each parent a few overnights during weekdays and split the weekend. The 2-2-3 visitation schedule has the child living with one parent for two days, switching to the other parent for the following two days, then returning to the first parent for three days.
Young school-aged children (4 to 12 years)
At this age, schoolwork and extracurriculars become a factor. The schedule should accommodate the child’s needs while giving parents time to bond with the child and help with school work.
Consider the 2-2-5-5 schedule where your child lives 2 days with one parent, then 2 days with the other parent, followed by 5 days with the first parent, and 5 days with the second parent. The kids won’t have to worry about changing households several times during the school week, so they can focus on schoolwork and other activities. Plus, the weekends alternate so parents get to enjoy free time with the kids as well.
Teenagers (13 to 18 years)
Teenagers are more independent, so they can stand to be away from each parent for longer periods. In addition to school and extracurriculars, they may have jobs of their own.
Look at weekly schedules. These include the alternating-weeks schedule (also called a 7/7 schedule) and the two-weeks-each schedule, where the child switches households every two weeks.
Distance Between Parents’ Homes
If you live a significant distance from the other parent, consider schedules that don’t require you to exchange the child frequently.
An every-weekend schedule could work. The child would live with one parent on weekdays and live with the other on weekends.
If the noncustodial parent wants more time, consider scheduling their time on the first, third, and fifth weekend of each month. (If there isn’t a fifth weekend, they just have the first and third.)
You might allow the child to spend the entirety of summer break with the distanced parent.
If it’s unsafe for the child to be alone with one of their parents, supervised visitation may come into play. This requires that a third party attend every visit or that the visits take place in a facility where a professional can watch.
You’ll also want to consider any possible interruptions to your usual schedule. For example, if a parent is in the military, you might consider creating a schedule specifically for when the parent is away. Typically, their custodial time is transferred to their spouse or relative.
Many children spend time with other family members or go to daycare. You should account for this third-party time in your schedule so you can get an accurate parenting time calculation.