Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: How to Set Up a Long-Term Visitation Schedule
This is a difficult topic to discuss with people because many myths circulate about how children should share time with their divorced or separated parents. There are certain statements that, when repeated often enough, are taken as facts or standards. The only "fact" that applies to the creation of parenting schedules is that children generally adjust to whatever their parents approve of and feel comfortable with. This means that if two parents decide that an every-other-day visitation schedule, which is typically not a good schedule for children, happens to be what is best for them, the children will most likely adjust; and if they do not adjust, the parents should modify it. Your attitude toward the long-term schedule you choose will determine your children's attitude in most cases.
Making Two Homes for Your Child
There is no visitation schedule that is all good or all bad from a purely practical point of view. You might have to experiment with a few different types of schedules before something will prove to be a good fit in the long term. You will also need to adjust the schedule based on the developmental and social needs of your children.
One very common reason a parent might deny visitation is a stated desire for their children to have "a home base," or "one home." This concern is completely without merit. Most of the time, parents who say they want their children to have a "home base" want to control visitation, or they want to be able to show that they have the children for the majority of time so that they can be awarded child support. It is perfectly normal for children to feel comfortable living in both of their parents' homes.
With a little work and cooperation, children can have two comfortable beds for sleeping, two places to do their homework, and two parents who act like real parents. The keys to this are cooperation, sharing of parental responsibilities, a common set of disciplinary rules, and civilized behavior between the parents.
When parents live in close proximity, the practical aspects of coparenting are easier, and it is easier to develop parenting schedules that include sharing weekday time. I do not favor the type of visitation that presumes that the noncustodial parent receives every other weekend visitation and one dinner visit during the week. The typical Wednesday night 6:00 to 8:00 visit rarely amounts to more than the visiting parent running out to a fast-food restaurant, helping the kids do homework on top of greasy wrappers, and running the children back to the custodial parent's home. This becomes even more difficult when the child is involved in an after-school activity like sports or music lessons.
Let's take a close look at the practical aspects of this common visitation schedule. A weekend consists of, at most, Friday evening to Sunday evening, a forty-eight-hour period of contact. If visitation is every other weekend, that makes two forty-eight-hour periods of visitation per month. I typically ask custodial parents if they think two forty-eight-hour periods a month would be enough time for them to influence their child the way they desire. Of course, most say that is not enough, yet many of them find it acceptable for children to have so little contact with the noncustodial parent.
That is because people have been told over the years that this is an acceptable schedule of contact for the noncustodial parent. If the noncustodial parent doesn't want any more time than that, you certainly cannot force it on him. But many parents want to have full and complete relationships with their children. They want to be involved. This cannot happen on an every-other-weekend schedule.
There are several ways to accomplish a more complete relationship between the children and both parents. The first and easiest way is to be certain that the noncustodial parent has access to after-school activities and functions. That way, even if there is only every-other-weekend visitation, the child can see the noncustodial parent during the week in a traditional parenting role. The second way to accomplish this is to permit the noncustodial parent to stop by the children's residence after school to say hello.
This situation might not seem realistic if you and your co-parent hate each other, but the question always boils down to whether you want to do what is best for your children or vent your rage at the co-parent for the rest of your children's lives.
When parents cannot tolerate one another's presence, the children should not suffer for lack of contact with either parent. Mom not liking Dad or Dad not liking Mom is not a sufficient reason for denying a child access to a parent. Yet it is the most common reason why visitation is denied or limited.