When couples are faced with dividing their children’s time between them, one of the inevitable first questions asked is, “What type of visitation or parenting plan do you recommend for my situation?”

This is similar to asking someone how they take their coffee – the answers can be as varied as your imagination. While it is true that there once was a “Standard Visitation” plan ordered by most Family Court judges, this is no longer the case. With more cases being resolved through some form of mediation and/or through the use of Guardians ad Litem, it is now more common to see a visitation schedule truly catered to the needs, schedules, and traditions of each individual family faced with divorce.

For example, if a particular holiday is not especially important to one parent, he or she may decide the other parent can have holiday visits that include the whole holiday, rather than creating a plan that would have the parents splitting the actual holiday. In other cases, you may see parents not switching the children at all during the school week because their children have trouble adjusting, but the other parents will get every weekend or most weekends during the school year to make up for this.

Here are 4 tips we often go over with our clients to get them thinking creatively when designing a parenting plan that is truly perfect for their family:

  1. Work Schedules – Try to keep in mind both parents’ work schedules when creating a calendar. If one parent works late nights or most weekends, using a schedule where visitation periods fall during those times guarantees the child will spend a lot of time with babysitters or extended family members instead of the parent. Look at periods of time when both the child and the parent are not working or attending school to build in extended visitation periods which maximize the parent-child bonding opportunities.

  2. The distance between the parent’s homes & schools – If both parents live equal (or close to it) distance from the child’s school, it’s easier to more equally divide time during the school week. However, if one parent lives a considerable distance from the child’s school, this must be taken in account so the child is not subjected to spending more time traveling in a car each week than actually spending time with his or her parents.

  3. School Calendar(s) and Children’s After-school activities – Depending on the child’s school, the school calendar and his or her after-school activities may dictate what kind of schedule will work best. The older a child gets and the more involved he or she becomes in school-based activities or sports, the more important it will be to allow spaces in the schedules for these activities – and to allow both parents to be involved in whatever ways they can, as well.

  4. Family Holiday Traditions – Just because the calendar designates a specific day a “holiday” doesn’t mean that you must include it in your parenting schedule. As we’ve said before, if a particular holiday means a great deal to one parent, but not the other one, adjust the schedule to allow that parent to enjoy the whole holiday with the child and find another period of time to give the other parent an extended period to even things out. The child and both parents win in those situations. Another tip is to consider establishing “new traditions” for holidays when it’s impossible to honor the old traditions in both homes at the same time. Children are so adaptable and what truly matters is that they have time to enjoy with both parents.

Having the assistance of an experienced family law attorney can be particularly helpful when dealing with special issues, such as custody and visitation, and parenting schedules.