How to Plan a Parenting Schedule That Works for Everyone Involved

Working With Your Ex on a Co-Parenting Schedule

Developing a joint custody parenting schedule with your ex is an important step toward helping your children adjust to having divorced parents. And while the process is primarily about divvying up child custody responsibilities, it's also about showing your children that you're willing to work together for what's best for them. Apply the following criteria as you develop your initial parenting schedule.

Mom hugging her son and smiling
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Considerations When Creating a Parenting Schedule

When it comes to designing your family's parenting schedule, there are a number of things to consider including logistics, your kids' needs, and their commitments. Consequently, you want to be empathetic and considerate when developing a parenting schedule. Here are some specific things to consider.

Put Yourself in Your Kids' Shoes

Traveling back and forth between two homes isn't easy. Likewise, it takes time to adjust to no longer living with both parents, especially when that's the only living arrangement your child has ever known.

Before you make a decision about your co-parenting schedule, put yourself in your kids' shoes and imagine what their day-to-day life will be like.

Consider what they will gain as well as what they will miss out on. Then, try to minimize the disruptions as much as possible.

Consider the Logistics

If you're sharing a generous amount of parenting time, it's important that you live close enough to one another that transportation is manageable for everyone. And don't forget to consider bussing to and from both residences, especially if you have school age children or soon-to-be school age children.

Another logistical consideration is the availability of childcare providers you both trust. If you have young kids who are already accustomed to a regular babysitter, it makes sense to ensure that your parenting schedule allows that relationship to continue. Doing so minimizes the amount of change your kids experience at once.

Take Into Account Your Kids' Schedules

If your kids stay after school during the week for extracurricular activities, keep that routine in mind when you're planning your parenting schedule. And don't forget to consider seasonal activities.

For instance, if you know your child's karate classes are currently on hiatus but will resume on Tuesday nights in two months, then factor that into your parenting schedule. You don't want to create a parenting schedule that requires your kids to drop a favorite activity. If you do, that is just one more loss your kids must endure.

Determine Whether You Should Involve the Kids

Giving your kids the opportunity to add their input as you develop a plan is beneficial for everyone. Of course, if you have very young children, asking for their input in developing the parenting schedule may not be practical. In that case, it's up to you and your former partner to collaborate on a parenting plan that's best for the kids at this stage in their lives.

On the other hand, if your kids are older, consider discussing your parenting schedule openly and asking your kids whether they have any preferences.

Even if you wind up overruling them on some aspects, it's important to give kids the opportunity to be heard.

Involving your kids in the process doesn't have to be scary. Remember, asking their preference regarding certain days of the week is not the same thing as letting kids decide where they're going to live.

Think About Special Needs

As your kids' parents, you know best what their needs are. And if any of your children have special needs, you know better than anyone how their unique challenges impact their everyday life and relationships.

As you evaluate the best custody arrangement for your special needs child, be mindful of the things that help your child thrive. Then, make your plans with those things in mind.

What to Avoid When Designing a Parenting Schedule

When it comes to creating an effective parenting schedule, you also want to steer clear of some common pitfalls former partners face.

Don't Make Convenience Your Goal

The natural temptation is to create a parenting schedule that's convenient. Yet, it's important to remember that the purpose of your parenting schedule is to support your kids' ongoing relationship with both parents—and that's going to require a healthy dose of compromise.

Some of your parenting schedule decisions will align with what's convenient for you, while other choices may be downright inconvenient. Going into the process expecting to make sacrifices can help you feel less agitated along the way.

Don't Focus on Winning or Losing

It can be tempting to keep track of how many sacrifices you're making in comparison to your former partner. But remember, this plan is about doing what's best for your kids, not about how many times you have to give in. And the reality is that you're both going to make sacrifices. Even if you don't see it right away, your partner may be making compromises that you are unaware of including rearranging something at work or at home. So, don't assume your ex isn't making any sacrifices. If you have questions, ask.

Don't Use the Schedule as Revenge

Your parenting schedule is not an opportunity to sabotage your former partner's personal life or career by orchestrating "compromises" that carry significant costs. Instead, focus on what your kids need and set aside your personal agendas. This planning period isn't the time to make your ex "pay" for past choices and the pain you've endured.

Don't Assume You're the Only Qualified Parent

You may have more experience dealing with specific challenges like bedtime routines, meltdowns, and homework assignments, but that doesn't mean your ex can't learn the same skills when given the chance to step in.

Remember, adapting to two different parenting styles can be a positive life lesson for your kids.

Don't Assume Conditions Will Be Met Later

It's also best not to commit to a parenting schedule that presumes certain conditions will be met at a much later date. Doing so just sets you up for disappointment and anger. For instance, a shared parenting schedule that requires your ex to relocate to your school district before your child enters kindergarten, may not be reasonable. In reality, making that happen depends on a number of factors that are out of your former partner's control, such as finding affordable housing or selling a current residence.

Test Drive Your New Parenting Schedule

Once you've worked out a basic parenting schedule with your ex, try to stick with the initial plan long enough for everyone to get a sense of what works and what doesn't. You can always make changes or adjustments down the road.

What's more, sticking with your initial plan for two to four weeks will help you differentiate between the to-be-expected kinks that come with a new living arrangement and the legitimate scheduling issues that need to be formally addressed.

When to Let the Courts Decide Your Parenting Schedule

Finally, remember that working out a parenting schedule with your former partner can be extremely beneficial. The schedule allows you both to have an equal say in the process and shows your children that you're willing to work together to have a healthy co-parenting relationship.

But if you find that it's impossible to agree on a parenting schedule, you can allow a judge to decide for you. Either parent can make this request. If you do go this route, consider hiring an experienced family law attorney to represent you in court.

Also, when courts are involved, the outcome is entirely out of your hands. As a result, you could end up with less parenting time and more sacrifices than your original parenting schedule.

Be sure this risk is one you want to take before getting the courts involved. Finding a way to collaborate is always the best option if possible. Of course, if your former spouse is being controlling, emotionally abusive, or difficult, you may have no other option.

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