FAQ: Understanding Child Custody Schedules and Step-Up Parenting Plans
During your divorce, you’ll have to make several difficult decisions – and some of them are related to creating child custody schedules that work for your family. Making choices about where your children will live and how they’ll spend their time can be emotionally taxing; you want to do what’s best for your children, especially right now, but to do so, you have to put aside your personal feelings for your ex.
That’s completely normal.
However, you do need to know that with open lines of communication and specific boundaries, co-parenting can be a positive experience – not just for you, but for your children. Consistent, peaceful and purposeful contact with your ex is essential to successful co-parenting.
That all starts with creating a detailed child custody schedule that outlines how you and your ex will do what’s best for your kids.
Understanding Child Custody Schedules
A child custody schedule is part of a parenting plan. Your parenting plan also has to include information on who’s responsible for making decisions about your kids’ health, welfare and education. When you and your ex are putting together a parenting plan, it’s helpful to know how judges decide custody. If the plan you create serves your children’s best interests, the judge in your case will likely sign off on it – and it’ll become a permanent order that lasts until one of you petitions the court to change it (or your children become adults).
Before you and your ex begin putting together a series of child custody schedules to find one you agree on, you need to know the answers to these questions:
- What does “the best interest of the child” mean?
- Do courts favor the mother when determining child custody?
- What is joint custody?
- What is a step-up parenting plan?
- What are the most common parenting plans?
- What is an “every weekend” visitation schedule?
- What is the “week on, week off” parenting plan?
- What is the “2-2-3” visitation schedule?
- What’s the best parenting plan for my family?
Here’s a closer look at each.
1. What does “the best interest of the child” mean?
California Family Code Section 3011 explains what “best interest of the child” means. Under the code, judges must consider several factors when they’re making a determination on child custody – and they’re all related to what will help the children the most. Judges look at things like:
- The health, safety and welfare of the child
- Whether one parent has a history of being abusive
- The nature and amount of contact the child has with each parent
- Whether one parent habitually or continually uses illegal drugs, abuses alcohol or abuses prescription medication
- Other factors that can affect the child’s well-being
It’s important that you know the courts consider frequent and continuous contact with both parents – as well as stability – to be very important in making a determination of custody.
2. Do courts favor the mother when determining child custody?
Family Code Section 3011 begins with the presumption that both parents have an equal right to time with their minor children. As a general rule, California’s policy is to allow the children frequent and continuing contact with both parents, as long as the children are safe in each parent’s care. The same law says that “the court shall not consider the sex, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation of a parent, legal guardian or relative in determining the best interests of the child.” That means a judge cannot automatically favor the mother simply because she’s a mother.
3. What is joint custody?
When you’re creating a child custody schedule, it’s important to know that most parents in California share joint custody. There are two types of custody – legal and physical – and in many cases, parents share both.
When parents have joint legal custody, they share in all the major decisions that affect their child. Those decisions can involve things like medical care, psychological care, education options, extracurricular activities and religious practice.
When parents have joint physical custody, they share time with their child. Sometimes one parent has less time than the other does, and sometimes families split that time evenly – every family is different.
4. What is a step-up parenting plan?
Step-up parenting plans are extremely common. These child custody schedules slowly increase the length of time that a child spends with a noncustodial or estranged parent. Because these plans allow children to become more familiar with their parent in a safe, stable and consistent manner, they’re an ideal solution for many families.
Step-up parenting plans allow an increase in visitation as the child gets older and more familiar with living in two separate homes. Judges often use these child custody schedules with young children, especially infants, and when one parent must meet specific guidelines before getting more visitation. The courts also use them when unmarried parents split up and the child has spent most of his or her time with only one parent.
Although the policy of the law in California is to allow the children frequent and continuing contact with both parents, the law first considers the children’s safety and stability when increasing custody and visitation.
5. What are the most common parenting plans?
Every family is different, so there are myriad child custody schedules in use in California today. However, some types of child custody schedules are used more frequently than others are. The most common include:
- Every weekend visitation
- Week-on, week-off parenting time
- 2-2-3 child custody schedules
6. What is an “every weekend” visitation schedule?
The “every weekend” child custody schedule is simple and effective for many families. It allows one co-parent to have primary physical custody of the child during the week and the other co-parent to have physical custody of the child on the weekends. This works for kids who are in school and need the stability of leaving and coming home to the same house each day, and when one parent is available to help with homework or after-school activities.
Pros of the “Every Weekend” Visitation Schedule
The “every weekend” child custody schedule is consistent and easy to remember, and it promotes stability and frequent contact with both parents.
Cons of the “Every Weekend” Visitation Schedule
Only one parent gets the child on weekends, while the other one only gets the child during the week. This separates parental obligations, leaving one parent to do the not-so-fun activities such as homework and assigning chores while the other parent enjoys quality time on the weekends.
7. What is the “week-on, week-off” parenting plan?
The “week-on, week-off” parenting plan is straightforward. Parents alternate their custodial time with their children on a weekly basis. Some moms and dads include a weekday visitation in order to maintain contact throughout the week.
Pros of the “Week-On, Week-Off” Child Custody Schedule
Alternating weeks in your custody plan creates consistent and repeating schedules. Repeating schedules allow both co-parents and their child to quickly get into a routine, which can make the transition from living in one home to living in two homes easier for your child.
Cons of the “Week-On, Week-Off” Child Custody Schedule
You may have to go a full week before seeing your children. This may be fine for some children, but for others, it could be way too long. Every child is different – and this kind of child custody schedule might not work well based on your child’s age and maturity level. Children in their early to late teens are often better able to handle this alternating schedule.
8. What is the “2-2-3” child custody schedule?
The “2-2-3” visitation schedule is a common and practical option for co-parents who are implementing a 50-50 custody agreement and live near each other. This child custody schedule works like this:
- Parent 1 gets the child for the first two days of the week
- Parent 2 gets the child for the next two days of the week
- Parent 1 gets the child for the next three days
When the next week begins, Parent 2 gets the child for the first two days. That means both parents’ schedules alternate each week – and that each parent has the child every other weekend.
Pros of the “2-2-3” Parenting Schedule
This custody plan can be ideal for young children, who need contact with each parent more frequently. Many parents appreciate the alternating weekend schedule, too, because it gives them quality time to enjoy with the kids – not just time for homework and chores.
Cons of the “2-2-3” Child Custody Schedule
This schedule requires more back and forth during the week for co-parents, which can be challenging for more contentious cases. It also requires more commute time and more communication between moms and dads. The constant back-and-forth can disrupt the children’s routine, especially if parents have different expectations regarding homework, bedtimes and extracurricular activities.
9. What is the best child custody schedule for my family?
There is no one-size-fits-all child custody schedule that will work for everyone. Kids are unique, and so are the families that love them. Some parents live close to each other, while others live over an hour away; some kids are mature for their ages, and some aren’t old enough to understand what’s going on.
Families can reach out to counselors, mediators and experienced family law attorneys when they’re creating child custody schedules. Outside help can be a lifeline for many families – and leave parents with more time to focus on their children, too.
Do You Need to Talk to a Beverly Hills Divorce Lawyer About a Child Custody Schedule?
At Provinziano & Associates, we understand the sensitive and complex nature of child custody litigation. We’re always happy to help our clients draft child custody agreements that work for their families while serving their children’s best interests.
We also know that many parents have to fight for their children, particularly when one parent uses time with the kids as a weapon to hurt the other parent. Divorce and custody battles are often emotionally difficult, but with The Provinziano legal team on your side, you know we’ll make sure your voice is heard. We’ll aggressively fight for you and your children so you don’t have to worry.
We’ll help you get the best possible outcome.
Call us at 310-683-4623 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation today.