© 2012 By Bill Eddy, LCSW, ESQ
In reality, as a lawyer, counselor, mediator and consultant, I have worked with many parents who use shared parenting schedules that are approximately 50-50. However, these are determined by the parents by agreement, based on their own circumstances, resources, and history of flexibility and sharing. I have many more parents who have schedules in which one parent has less than 30% of the parenting time and it works very well. The key factor in these successful schedules is that these decisions are being made by the parents, not imposed on them by the court. The child feels that both parents are generally satisfied with their parenting time and both parents make the best of their parenting time in giving the child good experiences.
There is also flexibility in these families, so that they may change to more or less time as work schedules change and the child grows older. I have had cases in which the child changed from being primarily at one parent’s house to the other parent’s house, and then back a year later – all based on the good cooperation of the parents and the comfort of the child to express changing preferences without upsetting one or both parents.
When I started my law practice in 1993, I represented clients in family court and did divorce mediations in my office. I went to a presentation by William Hodges, Ph.D., a divorce researcher and author of the highly regarded book Interventions for Children of Divorce (1991) which is still quite relevant. He said that research was making it clear that the best parenting schedule was one which both parents supported. Even if it was an odd schedule, including lots of exchanges or long stretches of time, what really mattered was the agreement of the parents.
Children follow their parents’ lead emotionally when learning what is “normal” and what helps their parents feel “okay.” On the other hand, even a very normal schedule won’t work, if one or both parents are upset about it. The children absorb their parents’ emotions much more than most parents realize. Dr. Hodges also said that research showed that parents followed their own agreements over 80% of the time, but only actually followed court-ordered schedules slightly more than 40% of the time.
With this in mind, I have told parents for the past 19 years in my practice that they need to put more effort into reaching an agreement than into fighting for the “right” parenting schedule for a child. It needs to be a team effort, otherwise it tends to pull children apart. However, I tell them that there are general principles for at least 3 basic age groups, which most parents take seriously in making their proposals to each other:
Bill Eddy is a lawyer, therapist, and mediator. He is the co-founder and Training Director of the High Conflict Institute, a training and consultation firm that trains professionals to deal with high conflict people and situations. He is the author of several books and methods for handling high conflict personalities and high conflict disputes with the most difficult people.