50/50 Custody: What does it look like – and which is best for your family?
When going through a divorce, one of the biggest questions parents must answer is how they will be handling physical custody of their children. As a quick refresher of the different types of child custody, physical custody refers to with whom the child will be living and the parenting schedule they will be following. This is different than legal custody, which determines who will be responsible for making major decisions about the child's upbringing, such as their medical care or religious education.
If you and your co-parent have decided on shared or joint physical custody, you'll still need to work together to determine which parenting schedule fits your family the best. 50/50 schedules are one of the most common forms of joint physical custody, but parents should not default to this arrangement without thinking critically about whether it'll work for their situation.
What to ask before pursuing 50/50 custody
For many families, children having robust and healthy relationships with both parents is a top priority after a divorce. Some see the simplest way of achieving this goal as maintaining a 50/50 split in their parenting time. In order for it to be the best child custody arrangement, however, co-parents must be able to commit to the particulars of a 50/50 custody schedule.
Distance between co-parents
Depending on which schedule parents choose, 50/50 custody can require frequent exchanges between parents. If co-parents live a few blocks or neighborhoods away from each other, those increased exchanges may not be an issue. But if significant distance separates co-parents, incorporating multiple exchanges per week may not be ideal.
For 50/50 custody schedules that require more frequent exchanges, communication needs to be on point and conflict needs to be contained. Traffic jams happen, meetings run late, and if parents are unable to communicate productively and civilly with each other, these bumps in the road can turn into major issues. If you and your co-parent struggle to maintain peaceful communication, choose a 50/50 schedule with a minimum number of exchanges or consider choosing a different split in parenting time.
Work and activity schedules
Your and your co-parent's work schedules will play a big part in whether or not certain 50/50 custody schedules are feasible. But it's not only your schedules that have an impact. Your children's activity and extracurricular schedules must also be taken into account when formatting your parenting time.
Common 50/50 custody schedules
Not all 50/50 custody schedules are created equal. Each has its pros and cons, so think about your own scheduling needs when determining which repeating pattern best fits your situation. To help get you started, here are 5 of the most common 50/50 custody schedule templates for you to consider. For ease of explanation, we'll be referring to co-parents as Parent A and Parent B.
Template #1: Alternating weeks
Alternating weeks are one of the simplest 50/50 child custody schedules. In this pattern, one week is spent with Parent A while the following week is spent with Parent B. This keeps parenting exchanges to an absolute minimum while still allowing both parents to have robust relationships with their children.
This schedule is best suited for older children who are better able to handle extended periods of time without seeing one of their parents. For younger children, having to wait a whole week before they see their other parent may sometimes be too long of a time interval.
Template #2: Alternating weeks with a mid-week overnight
For parents who want a simple schedule but do not wish to go a whole week without seeing their children, alternating weeks with a mid-week overnight can provide a happy compromise. For this schedule, parents include a single night of parenting time mid-week in their schedule. This mid-week exchange may not be suitable for parents who live long distances from each other. Children may also have a hard time settling in when they have a single night with one of their parents mid-week.
Template #3: 2-2-3
In a 2-2-3 parenting schedule, children spend two nights with Parent A, two nights with parent B, and then three nights with Parent A. The schedule than proceeds with the opposite: two nights with Parent B, two nights with Parent A, and then three nights with Parent B.
This schedule can be ideal for families with young children because it allows for more frequent contact between parents and their kids. However, this frequency comes with an increase in exchanges of which parents should be aware. Also, while the pattern of 2-2-3 is consistent, week by week parents will be alternating which days they have their children. For busy schedules with numerous activities and other events, not knowing immediately who will be with the children on any given Monday can make things a little more complicated.
Template #4: 3-3-4-4
3-3-4-4 schedules allow for frequent contact between parents and children while providing greater stability week to week. For example, if the schedule begins on a Sunday, Parent A will always have Sunday through Tuesday. And Parent B will always have Wednesday through Friday. The only day that alternates back and forth between parents is Saturday. This can simplify scheduling as parents immediately know whether a future date falls in their or their co-parent's parenting time.
Template #5: 2-2-5-5
2-2-5-5 schedules are similar to 3-3-4-4 schedules in that they maintain greater consistency week to week. For example, if the schedule begins on a Sunday, the only days that alternate between parents are Thursday through Saturday. Parent A will always have Sunday and Monday, while Parent B will always have Tuesday and Wednesday. Schedules that provide this type of consistency can be easier for children as well, as it's simpler for them to understand when they'll be with either parent.
Once you've chosen your custody schedule
Whichever parenting schedule you choose, make sure you document it in your co-parenting plan and track it on a calendar shared by both you and your co-parent. It's also important to remember that the schedule that works for you now may not be the best solution as your children grow. Don't be afraid to periodically reassess your scheduling needs and work with your co-parent to maintain a schedule ideal for your family.
NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.
Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.