Time-sharing refers to the schedule that defines each parent’s period of responsibility for the child. This includes regular time-sharing, holidays, and vacations. The goal is to maintain a good relationship between the parents and children. When determining the time-sharing schedule, many factors must be considered, including your child’s age and personality, the logistics of implementing a given schedule, the amount of contact that will be required between the parents, and the previous involvement of each parent in your child’s life.
Some families successfully carry out what is called a 50/50 time-sharing plan. In this plan, parents divide parenting time equally. This sort of plan typically only works when both parents are committed to it and live close to one another. They must also be willing to have similar daily routines and disciplinary styles, and agree to be supportive of one another in setting limits and following through with them.
If multiple children are involved, it is important to note that, in general, it is not a good idea to separate siblings. When their parents are separating, siblings often become closer to feel more secure. Separating them creates a situation where they suffer not only the loss of having their parents together, but also the loss of sibling contact. The primary exception to this general rule is if the siblings are prone to significant problems with one another or there is a large age difference between the children.
Where custody of the child or children is held by one parent, the other parent will likely hold visitation rights that protect their relationship with the child or children. Visitation rights are generally considered to be the time that the child shares with the non-custodial parent. It is typically in the child’s best interest to have regular and continuing contact with both parents, making it critical that both parents work together to determine the visitation rights of the non-custodial parent. The ultimate goal should be to formulate a schedule that meets the needs of the child by providing the optimal amount of time with each parent.
Child visitation guidelines are usually decided by the parents through mediation. If, however, you and your spouse cannot come to a mutual agreement as to when the non-custodial parent will be allowed to visit the child, the court will decide this matter for you in order to meet the needs of the child. In that case, the non-custodial parent’s visitation rights may provide for either supervised or unsupervised visitation with the child or children.
The following suggestions may be helpful as you and your spouse establish a good co-parenting relationship, visitation rights and/or time-sharing plan:
- Continue routine, quiet at-home times during time-sharing to help your child understand that the family they have been familiar with won’t change totally. Activities are fun, but a continuous series of special events such as sports games or outings to the zoo can actually harm your relationship with your child, as he or she may learn to expect something fun and unique every time you get together. This can lead to disappointment.
- When time is limited, your child needs to feel that he or she is your main focus. Involving other people regularly may make your child feel unimportant and can lead to resentment of new people. Remember, you may have been prepared for this separation, but your child was not. They need time with you.
- Children need permission to love both parents. Do not undermine or interfere with the relationship your spouse has with your child. Contact with both parents should be consistent and predictable for your child.
- Do not use your child as a messenger. If a schedule change is necessary, it is important to keep your child out of the middle by communicating directly with your spouse or by using a third party such as a mutual friend to communicate the change. For more information, see Our Family Wizard on our Partners Page. (The Our Family Wizard website offers divorced or separated parents an array of tools to easily schedule child custody and track parenting time, share important family information, manage expenses as well as create an accurate, clear log of divorce communication.)
- The best way to help your child transition successfully is to keep open communication. Do not use your child to spy on or openly put down your spouse. Always keep your home a pleasant place that makes your child feel loved.
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