If you are divorced, you and your ex-spouse may say you have joint custody; however, there’s not just one single definition or schedule for the term. Custody can be legal, physical, or both.
If you have joint legal custody, you both have a say in any major decisions regarding your child’s life. If you have joint physical custody, you spend about an equal amount of time with your children.
Common Joint Custody Schedules
There are many joint custody schedules that are available to you, or you and your ex-spouse can create your own. Some of the most common joint custody schedules are:
- Alternating Weeks. In this arrangement, your child will spend one week with you, and then one week with your ex-spouse. Most couples decide to transfer the child on Fridays, but you can choose any day that works best for you.
- Midweek Visits. You and your ex-spouse may choose to add a midweek evening visit to your alternating week schedule.
- Midweek Overnight: On this type of schedule, you or your ex-spouse may have an overnight visit midweek during your alternating week joint custody plan.
- 2-2-3 Rotation: With this type of schedule, you may have your child for two days, then they’ll be with your ex-spouse for two days, and then they’ll spend a long three-day weekend with you. This would alternate so each parent can spend every other weekend with the child.
- 3-3-4-4 Rotation: In this schedule, your child would spend three days with you, three days with your ex-spouse, four days with you, and then four days with your ex-spouse.
- 2-2-5-5 Rotation: In this schedule, your child would spend two days with you, two days with your ex-spouse, then five days with you, and five days with your ex-spouse.
Creating Your Own Joint Custody Schedule
If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse decide to have a joint custody agreement regarding your child, the first thing you should do is sit down and talk about it. You both know what is best for your family, so you just need to put it down on paper.
In order to have a successful joint custody schedule, you and your ex-spouse will need to discuss the following:
1. Your work schedules
2. Your child’s school schedule
3. Your child’s extracurricular activities
4. Where you and your ex-spouse are going to have your separate residences
5. Transportation between your homes and your child’s activities
6. What does your child want?
7. What about the holidays?
8. How you and your ex-spouse will handle emergencies, and changing the joint custody arrangement when it may be necessary
Joint Custody Schedules Based on Your Child’s Age
In some cases, you and your ex-spouse may decide to come up with a joint custody schedule based upon the age of your child. This way, as your child matures, you can amend the joint custody schedule based on your child’s ever-changing needs. The following joint custody schedules are meant as a general outline, and you and your ex-spouse can modify them as you wish.
1. Infant Joint Custody Schedule – Birth to 18 Months: When creating a parenting plan and joint custody schedule for your infant child, you should take the following things into consideration:
- Your child needs things to be consistent. Your baby should have a predictable routine for sleeping, eating, playing, etc.
- Babies cannot remember a lot, so they should have frequent visits with both you and your ex-spouse.
- Your baby will grow and change at a rapid pace. You and your ex-spouse should communicate about your baby’s development and adjust your plan to fit your baby’s needs.
- Your baby can recognize and will fear anger and harsh words between you and your ex-spouse. You and your ex-spouse have to settle your disagreements so your baby isn’t aware of your conflicts.
Additionally, you will want to accommodate your baby’s breastfeeding schedule and plan your joint custody visits around that schedule.
The joint custody schedules that work best for babies are: a 2-2-3 schedule, an alternating every 2-day schedule, a 5-2 schedule, or an every 3rd day schedule.
2. Toddler Joint Custody Schedule – 18 Months to 3 Years: If your child is a toddler, the following is information you should keep in mind when creating your joint custody schedule:
- Your toddler needs a predictable schedule.
- Your toddler is developing new skills almost constantly, and you should each childproof your home so your toddler is safe.
- Your toddler will have a strong attachment to who takes care of them. Your toddler will be attached to both you and your ex-spouse, so it’s important to give your toddler frequent visits with both of you.
- Like babies, toddlers are quite sensitive to anger and tension. You need to work out any disagreements so your toddler isn’t around any conflicts.
- Your toddler will grow and change very quickly, so you should have methods in place to modify your plan as your toddler matures.
The joint parenting schedules that may work best for your toddler include: a 2-2-3 schedule, a 5-2 schedule, an every 3rd day schedule, a 4-3 schedule, or a 3-4-4-3 schedule.
3. School-Aged Children – Ages 6 to 12
In order to make your joint custody schedule the most effective when your child is between six to twelve years of age, you should take the following into consideration:
- Your school-aged children are much more comfortable with separation from their parents because of going to school, spending time playing with friends, and participating in activities.
- Your school-aged child understands time and routines.
- Your school-aged child is more independent and will be comfortable living in two different homes.
- Your school-aged child can and will adjust to different parenting styles.
- Your child will tend to be more flexible in their development and adapt.
- Your school-aged children should try out different activities outside of the home.
- Your school-aged child should be allowed to talk on the phone to you or your ex-spouse.
The parenting plans that work best for your school-aged children are: alternating weekends, alternating week, every weekend schedules, a 2-2-3 schedule, a 5-2 schedule, or a 2-2-5-5- schedule.
4. Teenage Children – Ages 13-18
When creating a joint custody schedule for your teenager, there are some things you should keep in mind. They include:
- Your teenager is using your family as a support system, and they need both you and your ex-spouse’s oversight and love.
- Your teenager needs to explore different activities and relationships outside your family. Your plan should be flexible enough to let this happen.
- Your teenager would really rather spend time with their friends instead of you and your ex-spouse. Any joint custody schedule should make allowances for this.
- Your teenager will be busy with activities, friends, school, jobs, and sports as they mature into young adults. Your joint custody schedule should fit the schedule of your teenager.
- Most teenagers want some measure of control and independence when it comes to their schedule. Your joint custody schedule should take the preferences of your teenager into consideration.
Generally, the joint custody schedules that work best for teenagers are: alternating week schedules, alternating weekend schedules, the 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends schedule, the 2nd, 4th , and 5th weekend schedule, the 5-2 schedule, the 2-2-5-5 schedule, or the 2 weeks at each parent’s home schedule.
Additionally, you may want to consider the every 3rd week schedule, the 4-3 schedule, the 3-4-4-3 schedule, or an every 3rd weekend schedule for your teenager.
For the health and wellbeing of your child, any joint custody schedule should be one that works for everyone involved. This includes you, your ex-spouse, your child, your work schedule, your child’s school schedule, extracurricular activities, and even transportation issues if you and your ex-spouse live more than 30 minutes apart.
Any joint custody plan should mean that you and your ex-spouse will keep separate clothes, toys, and favorite electronics at each of your homes. In addition, each of your homes should have a separate bedroom that your child feels is theirs. You don’t want your child to feel like they are being shuffled from place to place with relative indifference.
As with most parents who are getting divorced, you know that you need to always do what is in the best interest of your child. The best way to do this is to work together with your ex-spouse to come up with a joint custody schedule, rather than leaving it up to a family court.
Whatever schedule you and your ex-spouse decide on, it’s important to give everyone in your family time to adjust to their new reality. Making the plan and putting it down on paper will help everyone stick to the schedule. Above everything else, if your child is old enough to voice their opinion about the joint custody schedule, you should listen to their wants and needs closely.