Becoming Comfortable With Your Parenting Time Schedule

Something many parents must come to grips with when in the throws of a separation or divorce from their partner is that they may not be able to see their children every single day. For many parents, that may be a tough pill to swallow. Eventually though, by agreement or by an Order of the Court, a parenting time schedule in the best interests of the children will have to be implemented. That schedule may include more time away from home than a parent is comfortable with, or include days of the week they never thought they would have to give up. But as parents and courts shy away from the stereotypical “every-other-weekend and once-a-week dinner” schedule, there appears to be growing acceptance of a variety of different types of parenting time schedules, reflecting changing priorities and attitudes towards parenting after separation and divorce.

50/50, 2/2/3, 182.5, 104, 52…this lingo is used by many attorneys working in family law to describe parenting time arrangements and the number of overnights a parent may have with their child each year. That also means that there is no one “perfect” parenting time schedule, as what may be ideal for one family would never work for another.

An equal parenting time schedule (otherwise known as a “50/50” schedule, where each parent has 182.5 overnights a year), may not be for every family, perhaps due to the parents’ work schedules, their residences, or the needs of the children. And if that schedule is chosen (or ordered), it can be implemented in a variety of ways that suits their needs and their children’s needs. Our offices are littered with the color coded calendars of potential 50/50 parenting time schedules, which could probably fill an encyclopedia on the subject.

And on the other end of the spectrum, implementing a “stereotypical” schedule (with just 52 overnights per year) may be overly restrictive in light of the parent’s availability, fitness as a parent, and willingness to accept additional parenting time. Or it may be the schedule that works best for the children and the parents at the time it is entered into, and can be expanded on in the future if sufficient changes in the parties’ circumstances occur or the parties agree to additional time.

Something that may get lost in crafting these parenting time schedules are the needs and desires of the parents, possibly out of fear that asking for a little “breathing room” in the schedule would come across as selfish. But there are many ways to craft a parenting time schedule that provides not only enough time for both parents to build and maintain relationships with their children, but also find some time for themselves, and there should be no shame in trying to achieve both so long as the children’s best interests are always provided for.

Parents have taken to social and traditional media to espouse the benefits of having “kid-free time,” which, when the parents are separated or divorced and operating under a parenting time schedule, means that the children get to enjoy time with another parent, who may not have as much time with the children as the other parent (if it is not a 50/50 schedule), and in certain circumstances (like where parents live in different states or countries), may not get to see them on a consistent basis. Many parenting time agreements or Orders also provide for “rights of first refusal,” meaning if there is an unexpected need during one parent’s usual parenting time to be away from the children for a certain period of time, the other parent must be given the opportunity to care for the children before a 3rd party is called in. In either circumstance, the children’s best interests are still being advanced – they get to share time with another parent – while mom or dad get a few hours/days to themselves to recharge before the schedule starts anew.

Judges frequently caution that the last thing they want to do, and the last thing the litigants before them should want the Court to do, is to establish a parenting time schedule for them and their children, as the parents themselves are the best judges of what is best for their children (and for the parents themselves). This can also be an expensive and emotionally trying process, and frequently (if not always) involves expert evaluations, which can cost parents tens of thousands of dollars when all is said and done. In trying to avoid a lengthy, costly, and often impersonal Trial to establish parenting time, some parents may get lost in attempting on their own, or through counsel, to find the “perfect” parenting time schedule. For help in finding a creative solution to your parenting time woes, or to see if you can spice up a stale schedule, contact Jacobs Berger, LLC, for help in establishing a schedule that fits your family’s needs.

About the Author:

Sarah Jacobs is dedicated to protecting the interests of clients in family law proceedings. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney, and Qualified as a Mediator, Sarah possesses nearly 20 years of experience practicing law throughout the State of New Jersey. Together with partner Jamie N. Berger, Esq. their boutique Morristown family law firm is managed with the goal of providing high-quality service tailored to each client's individual needs. In her capacity as both a family law mediator and litigator, Sarah works with negotiation-minded clients in a cooperative setting. She is also a skilled litigator with the knowledge needed to take even the most complex cases to court, if necessary.

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