Creating a parenting schedule is one of the first things that happens on separation or divorce, because it’s what follows directly after a move from one home into two. Both parents need to be able to see the children, and a schedule is the easiest way to make sure that happens. Creating one isn’t always that easy. Here’s some ideas to make it easier.
Where can parents start when they’re looking to create a schedule for parenting of their children in two homes?
There are two basic parts to any parenting schedule:
- Regular schedule – which will typically be the school-based schedule if your children are of that age
- Holiday schedule – this will typically be for times when the children are out of school
In this blog we will focus on the regular schedule, and next week we will have a look at how to create a holiday-based schedule.
When considering what a regular schedule would look like, some families generally know what would work for their family. For others, it’s more difficult to come up with that schedule.
If families need some help in coming up with that schedule, here’s a few tips:
Start by considering generally how the time will be broken up
Some families do weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other;
Some start by committing to keeping the number of days even throughout the month;
Others want to generally have an exchange every few days.
Start with the general concepts.
Next, the more consistency that parents can create for children the better. For instance:
Maybe you want to have the exchange day as a consistent day or time each week.
Or maybe it’s around a consistent event like always before a particular meal or after a particular routine like a nap, so the children get used to when transitions will happen.
To layer on top of that, parents should look at practical things like:
- What is each parent’s work schedule?
- What is the children’s school, daycare, and activity schedule?
This will help them to build a logical and sustainable parenting schedule around their lives.
I encourage parents to come up with a schedule they think may work, and try it for a period of time, like at least 4-6 weeks, to see how the entire family adapts. Then come back to discuss any changes that may be needed.
And finally, there’s tons of resources online to help families come up with a schedule that’s right for them, check out our resources section for tools on creating the right schedule for your family (bottom of the page). My focus in my practice and in the resources I provide is always on taking a developmental approach to building any parenting schedule. Check out our e-learning platform which has an Interview with divorce expert Karen Bonnell on what a developmental approach means.
What does it mean to take a developmental approach to a parenting schedule for children?
Typically families I work with will come in with their own ideas which will usually create a starting point for a schedule.
Then from there, I usually ask how things have been going. That will give me a good glimpse into how the children are adapting to the two-home schedule.
When we talk about “developmentally appropriate” plan, it means that we look at things like:
- The children’s age
- Their stage of development
- Their temperament
- Their ability to adapt to changes
- any particular considerations for their children such as any special needs
In essence, this means that parents should be mindful of each of their children individually, what they need, and how they will each cope with any particular schedule. Some parents may find that they need to make individualized schedules based on individualized needs, rather than lumping children together in one group plan. Again, check out our e-learning platform which has an Interview with divorce expert Karen Bonnell for more.
What about when changes or flexibility is needed – can you give parents some ideas of how to deal with special requests?
Into every plan, I recommend negotiating a formula for how to deal with change requests.
There’s various types of requests:
There’s situations where a parent cannot make their parenting time because something has come up – in those instances usually parents will integrate something called a right of first refusal – this is where an on-duty parent who needs child care is required to give the opportunity to the other parent before a child care provider to care for the children. This is always an opportunity not an obligation for the off-duty parent.
There’s situations where a parent wants to exchange time because they have a special occasion or holiday coming up – parents should provide in their agreement as to how they are going to deal with these requests – are there a certain number of days or weeks ahead that notice needs to be given? What if it won’t work for the scheduled parent? How will that dispute be resolved?
What if a major change is required to the parenting schedule because of life changes – for instance, if a parent’s work schedule changes or children’s activities or life schedule changes? It’s a good idea to set out how major changes will be negotiated.
In the end, it’s important to ensure that you provide enough notice to each other as parents as to any change requests so that there will be time to negotiate these things.
Henka Divorce Law & Mediation is a Collaborative Law and Family Mediation firm that helps families thrive as they transition to separation, divorce, or cohabitation. Understanding that every journey is different, we guide families through the right legal or mediation process that fits their unique situation.
Our client service is built on three pillars – focusing on the future, nurturing and supporting children, and working together towards well-being. This includes considering everyone’s needs throughout the process. We work closely with families to provide a meaningful and fair resolution, while keeping costs down by staying out of court.
We serve families in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada through their separation or divorce by providing in-person and virtual Collaborative Law or Mediation services.
With extensive knowledge in matrimonial law, our founder Stephanie Dobson uses a caring, results-focused approach to help parents navigate a family separation or divorce while they connect with and support their children. Learn more about her approach and credentials.