Some common custody arrangements:
Week on Week Off – Although this is typically the first words out of a parent’s mouth, this arrangement is replete with difficulties in both its concept and its actualization. In short, it is usually a bad idea. However, it depends on the individual child who may find this ideal, especially as they get older and really would rather spend time in their room or on the phone than with either of you. It usually works best when both parents live very close to each other. The child will have neighborhood friends and haunts, and it is odd for him to disappear for a week while the other kids on the block play together. The child can come back and feel alienated from the other children, seeming more like an outsider at each of the neighborhoods, with no real home base. Although children differ, this home base can provide a necessary sense of stability for the child.
It can also be a difficult arrangement on the parents (I suppose we can be concerned about what they want for just a moment), as it is difficult to go from seeing your child every day to suddenly seeing them only once a week. As such, you will often find a lot of push-back from the stay at home parent to an arrangement of this sort. Therefore, pushing for the alternating week schedule can cause a huge problem in the mediation context. The bread winner seem to like this schedule because they believe that they can work long hours one week, and be more available for the child next. Although, realistically, this is typically more of a pipe dream.
Alternating Weekends/One night a week: Freeman Order – This arrangement is the traditional arrangement for custody where the bread winner will have every other weekend from Friday after school until Sunday evening and one evening or overnight every week. This is the arrangement that is most often ordered in courts and often defaulted to by the parties.
The advantages to this custody arrangement are that it provides both parents with weekend time (a critical component of any custody plan and a regularly required provision by the courts). Weekend time is really the only opportunity that parents have to spend long amounts of quality time with the child, and as such we want to make sure that each parent has weekend time.
The weekly visit in the evening also provides regular contact so that a parent never has to go more than a week without seeing the child. Of course, a week is still quite a long time.
This also provides a child with a firm home base to move forward from. This stability can be imperative for some children who need to have the security of a home base that keeps a semblance of consistency for them.
For children who are having problems in school, this arrangement can provide an opportunity to spend the majority of their school days in one house where they can establish a firm routine for their studies.
2-2-5 Schedule – This schedule assigns specific days for each parent, combined with alternating long weekends for each parent. For instance, mom will have every Monday after school until Wednesday after school and dad will have every Wednesday after school until Friday after school and the parent’s will alternate every other Friday after school until Monday after school. That way each parent has five days away from the child one week followed by two days away from the child the next week.
The advantages to this schedule are that there is some consistency for the child who knows what days he will be with mom and dad every week, while still securing that precious weekend time for each parent. It is also a true joint custody schedule.
Of course, depending on the child, this can still have its problems in terms of consistency and adaptation by the child. For a child who needs consistency in their primary residence, this can still pose significant issues in terms of school and other psychological needs.
Of course, these schedules are nice for the ease of drafting orders for the parents, but when it comes down to it, the needs of the child may require that a certain order is in place, even if that is detrimental to one of the parents. Moreover, when you reference the main benefit of mediation, the ability to adjust the schedule if it is not working, you need to understand that these schedules need to be adapted as you begin to see your child’s reaction to them. You may start with the Freeman order to provide security to the child right after separation, but decide that he is doing well with the plan and switch to a variation of the another schedule. Or you may start with the 2-2-5 schedule and realize that your child just isn’t doing well: school is suffering, he is not sleeping well, or seems more depressed than usual, and one parent may need to acquiesce and move the schedule to more of a Freeman order. You get to decide based on your child and his specific, unique needs, and that is the key.