When people separate, custody and access can be highly emotional and hotly contested issues. Clients have already had their life turned upside down. Their marriage has broken down, they will be splitting up their property and they often have no idea how their finances will work out. The only thing more worrisome, is are they going to be cut out from their children’s lives. Are they going to be reduced to seeing their children two weekends a month? Many clients come into my office and tell me “I want 50/50” i.e. they want their children to live with them half the time. I can tell you that a lot of lawyers, judges and social workers are going to seem frustrated as soon as they hear that phrase “50/50”. In fact, I tell clients not to use that phrase at all.
The reason being that in so many cases the parent saying it has not thought it through. Your children are not possessions that can be divided into equal parts. If you have not thought through the practical details and if you do not have a detailed parenting plan, you may not get what you are asking for. The person making the decisions will want to know, “what is your plan?”, “How will it work for your children?”, “Does it make sense from the child’s perspective?” It is not about you thinking you are “entitled” to half the time because they are your children. That attitude will get you absolutely no where. Here are some points you should think about when you will write-up the parenting plan that you will ask a decision-maker to accept.
Remember, you should think in terms of what will work for your children. Keep looking at each point from that perspective.
1. Where do you and your spouse live? Are your houses close together? A judge or decision-maker is going to consider how much travel time will be necessary for your children. Especially if there are serval transitions a week for your children, the decision-maker is not going to like it. For example, if you live an hour apart, it means that your children will have to spend several hours every week driving back and forth. Whether you mind driving 2 hours round trip is not the issue. The issue is should a child spend hours commuting between their parents’ home especially on a school night.
2. Get a calendar page and plot out the schedule you are asking for. Write down each and every pick-up and drop-off. Take a look at how many times your children will be going back and forth every week and each month. I have had cases where the plan would be for the children to transition between homes every other day. That would ensure that each parent had 50%. It also means that the child would be transitioned 13 times a month! Then step-back and consider, is it fair to your children to go back and forth that many times?
3. If your plan includes each of you having the children during the week, how are the children going to get to and from school every day. Again, your plan has to set out all the details. If they get out of school at 3pm, can you get off work to pick them up? If you have to leave for work at 6:00am, are you going to get your children up at 5:00am? In my experience, that is not going to be well-received. What kid wants to get up at 5:00am? If you plan is on a school day, your child gets up at 5:00am, then goes to school, then day care after school until 4pm, then pick them up and drive an hour to your house – they already have had a 12hour day and its only 5:00pm. If you are being realistic, is that a good plan for your child?
4. If your children have extra curricular activities and it is your day, it is your responsibility to get them there. If there are 2 or 3 children and they each have a sport or lesson, sit down and figure out, how practically, that will work each week. There is nothing sadder than cases where children are signed up for activities and one parent will not or cannot get them to their games and practices. Your children have enough turmoil with your separation. You have to be able to make their activities a priority. It ensures that that part of their lives is stable.
These are some of the questions you need to seriously consider. Then when you come into my office or to the office of whoever you are seeing, you will have the parenting plan with the details marked on it. You will have thought through the practical issues with your proposed parenting plan. You will have thought of the impact on your children of each aspect of the plan you are proposing.
I think many clients think 50/50 is equal and because it is equal, its fair. Not so. It “maybe” fair to you, but that is not the issue. The real issue is what is the impact on your children. What will their day-to-day life be like. That is absolutely the question you have to be able to answer.