Not necessarily! When a marriage or non-marital relationship ends and there are minor children in the family, many parents argue about being “50/50 parents” with equal parenting time. Working out a parenting schedule that provides equal parenting time may be the right solution for some families, but every family is different. There is no “one-size-fits-all” parenting schedule that meets the needs of all children and their families.
“The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to assure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage, or ended their relationship, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy . . .”
The Family Code does not mention 50/50 parenting time, and Family Code Section 3011 simply tells the judge to order a parenting schedule that’s in the “best interests” of a child.
- What kind of parenting schedule best serves a child?
A child’s “best interests” will be different in different families, depending upon a variety of factors, including:
- Child’s age-related needs (Toddler? Pre-school age? Elementary school? Middle school? High school?).
- Parents’ work schedules and whether there is flexibility to accommodate children’s needs (Self-employed? Does a parent work from home or in an office from 9 to 5? Does a parent have an irregular schedule, such as a firefighter or flight attendant?).
- Distance between parents’ homes (Do they live close to each other? More than 10-30 miles away? In different counties? Different states?).
- Frequency of children’s extracurricular activities (Music lessons once per week? Soccer practice three times per week and a game every weekend?).
- Blended families, where the parenting schedule of another adult in the household is different, and that adult’schildren also need consideration.
- Grandparents who may want and/or need to be included in the parenting schedule.
- Other relevant factors, such as a child’s health, welfare and safety, any history of domestic violence or child abuse, and any habitual parental use and/or child exposure to illegal or controlled substances.
- How do families benefit when parents agree on their parenting schedule?
When parents agree on a parenting schedule, there is reduced conflict which benefits both parents and their children. The more parents prioritize the needs of all members of their restructured family, the less conflict all family members will experience. Ways to ward off future conflict include:
- Parents review their parenting schedule regularly and cooperate to negotiate requests for changes.
- Parents anticipate predictable changes for their child, such as transition from elementary school to middle school to high school, or different extracurricular activities during the school year and summertime.
- Parents agree about how to address unpredictable changes, such as when a parent must change jobs, or a parent remarries someone with children who have a different parenting schedule, or a parent plans to move away a long distance.
- What are some consequences when parents do not agree?
If parents cannot agree on a parenting schedule, they usually end up in court.
- When parents battle in court, they give power to the judge, a stranger in a black robe unfamiliar with their family’s needs and traditions, to make their decisions for them. When judges make these decisions, usually neither parent is satisfied.
- Litigation is expensive, especially when parents each want an attorney to represent them.
- Litigation is adversarial with a win-lose model that pits parents against each other, increasing future conflict. Long-term conflict causes physical, psychological, emotional and behavioral harm to both parents and children.
- In cases with high conflict parents, a judge may appoint minor’s counsel, an attorney to represent the child(ren) in court, and the parents pay for minor’s counsel, in addition to paying their own attorneys.
- In cases with high-conflict parents, a judge may also decide to order a “child custody evaluation.” The judge appoints a mental health professional to provide an expert opinion about the children’s needs, each parent’s skills and challenges, and the impact on the children of the parents’ divorce and behavior.
- The child custody evaluation process usually takes many months and can cost over $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 or significantly more.
- The evaluator typically meets with parents, significant others and children, visits the children’s separate homes and schools, and speaks with important people in the children’s lives, such as teachers, therapists, doctors, coaches, caregivers, relatives and others.
- The evaluator provides a detailed report with recommendations about custody and the parenting schedule. The judge considers this report when making custody decisions and the judge’s orders are legally binding and must be followed.
As parents, you have choices! After the decisions to become parents and to divorce, your most important choices now involve how you will each work to become skilled, respectful co-parents able to collaborate, to prioritize your children’s needs over your own, and to buffer your children from the long-term, damaging effects of co-parenting conflict.
Armine Baltazar, Esq. and Jami Fosgate, Esq. no longer litigate divorces and prefer to assist families using mediation, co-mediation or collaborative divorce processes. Visit VirtualDivorceCa.com to join our live, no-cost Divorce Options® and “Divorce Doctors” webinars. Our website also provides free resources and education about options for handling your divorce situation.