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Child Timeshare and Custody: Which Options Are Best for You?

When couples begin the separation process, each person has concerns about what the future holds. For couples with minor children, the most common concerns involve custody arrangements and parenting schedules. 

A 50/50 arrangement might not be the best fit for you – and that’s okay. After all, you and your co-parent need to find the right balance for both of you and the best interests of your children.

Determining when and where you’ll see your kids isn’t the only matter to be settled during a divorce. In fact, there’s a lot more to child custody cases than people often realize. Let’s look at all of your options for time with the children and their living arrangements.

Physical custody vs. legal custody

When most people think of child custody, they think about where the children will live. But in fact, there are two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. The types differ in that each gives parents different responsibilities. 

Physical custody

Physical custody refers to the child’s daily living arrangements. A parent could receive sole physical custody or share joint physical custody with the other parent. In many cases, courts try to rule in favor of joint physical custody unless there is a strong case against it.

Legal custody

Legal custody has nothing to do with the child’s day-to-day living arrangements. Instead, it denotes who will make decisions about the child’s upbringing. This includes everything from where the child goes to school to where they receive medical care. As with physical custody, legal custody may be shared between parents or awarded to one parent.

Physical custody is primarily based on where each parent lives and their ability to care for the child on a daily basis. Legal custody is based on a parent’s ability to make sound decisions in the child’s best interest. 

Although many parents share physical and legal custody of their minor children, there are times when only one parent maintains legal custody even though the children split their time between two households. Inversely, there are times when a child primarily lives with one parent, yet both parents share legal custody. 

Joint custody

When parents share their responsibilities after a divorce, this is called joint custody. Joint custody can exist in multiple capacities, including joint physical custody, joint legal custody, or a combination of the two. 

Joint physical custody

When parents share joint physical custody, the child splits their time between two homes. A predictable time-sharing schedule that remains consistent throughout the year is common. For example, parents may follow a schedule where children alternate weeks between homes, or they may split the week in another way to receive equal parenting time.

That said, joint physical custody doesn’t always mean an equal timeshare. In fact, there are cases in which children only spend weekends with one parent … or they spend the entire school year with one parent and visit the other parent when school is not in session. It all boils down to what makes the most sense based on each parent’s work schedule, how close (or far) the parents live from each other, and what’s in the best interest of the child.

Joint legal custody

When parents have joint legal custody, they share decision-making responsibilities. This doesn’t mean they must agree on every aspect of their child’s upbringing, but it’s usually best if they try to work together and compromise. 

As with joint physical custody, there are times when joint legal custody isn’t necessarily equal. For example, both parents might be responsible for making certain decisions (like medical care), but one parent might hold sole decision-making authority in a specific area (like where the minor child attends school). It depends on what makes the most sense for the child and whether the parents can create a feasible co-parenting plan together. 

Non-custodial visitation 

Sometimes, joint physical custody isn’t in the best interest of the child. For example, one parent may not have stable housing, or their work schedule may make it difficult to share parenting time, or they may engage in behaviors that deem their company unsafe for the child. 

Even if a parent isn’t awarded physical custody, it may make sense for a child to spend time with them. If this is the case, the non-custodial parent may be granted visitation rights. The visits may be unsupervised or supervised, and they may occur regularly or periodically.

Unsupervised visitation

Unsupervised visits are by far the most common type of non-custodial visits granted by the court. With unsupervised visitation, the non-custodial parent can take the children to their home or on an outing during their scheduled timeshare. 

Common unsupervised visitation schedules include the following:

  • Overnight stays every other weekend
  • Weekly dinner or overnight visits once per week
  • Extended summer visits, often between two and six weeks

Supervised visitation

Sometimes, the court decides that unsupervised visitation isn’t best. In these cases, a parent may receive supervised visitation rights. 

Supervised visitations involve another responsible adult overseeing the non-custodial parent’s visits with the child. This adult may be the child’s grandparent or a family friend, or the court may appoint a court-designated supervisor (like a social worker) to observe the visits.

Common supervised visitation schedules include the following:

  • Visits of one to two hours twice per week
  • Brief visits of two or more hours during major holidays
  • Other arrangements based on the child’s age and availability of the parents

Shared parenting time

The terms shared parenting and joint custody are often used interchangeably. However, shared parenting merely refers to two parents sharing, or splitting, the amount of time they have with their child based on some sort of co-parenting schedule.

As parents decide what their shared parenting time should look like, they may compare several co-parenting schedules. Depending on the child’s age and the frequency each parent would like to see their child, parents may decide on a schedule where they swap the child weekly or multiple times per week. 

Common shared parenting schedules include the following:

  • Alternating weeks (also known as a week on/week off, or 7/7)
  • 5/2/2/5 and 4/3/3/7 (timeshare percentages), where the parents each receive seven days over a period of two weeks without the prolonged break of alternating weeks
  • 2/2/3 or 2/2 (timeshare percentages), where swaps happen frequently and alternate days each week

Getting help for your situation

In an ideal world, you and your child’s other parent would be able to set aside your differences and agree to a parenting plan that keeps your child’s life situation and best interests in mind. However, if you cannot agree with your ex on custody or visitation, it’s time to get help from a mediator or lawyer.

Dealing with conflicts related to parenting time can feel impossible, but you’re not alone. Hello Divorce can help you work through parenting plans and other co-parenting issues. Whether you need assistance with the details of your divorce or mediation by the hour to settle a custody schedule, we have packages and individual services that can help you finalize your parenting plan.