What is a typical custody schedule?

Posted on Oct 4, 2019 by Katie Carter

Well, first off, let me say: there is no such thing as a “typical” custody schedule. Though there are some arrangements that courts (and parents) favor over others, there are literally as many different types of arrangements with respect to custody as there are parents and children out there in the world. There’s no right or wrong, really – though that’s not to suggest that, if a court orders a specific custody arrangement, you’ll necessarily love the way your parenting time is divided with your child’s father.

Remember that physical custody can be split three ways: primary to one parent, shared between both parents, or split.

Primary Physical Custody

In a primary physical custody scenario, the non custodial parent (the parent who has the children less) has 89 or fewer days in a calendar year.

If there ever was a “typical” custody schedule, I think it was this one: every other weekend, Wednesday night dinner, two weeks in the summer, and alternating holidays. That would be less than 90 days in a year, and it would fall under the primary physical custody heading. This is still a popular custodial arrangement today, but it is by no means the only custodial arrangement, or even the custodial arrangement most preferred by judges.

If you and your child’s father don’t live near each other, sharing the children every other weekend isn’t necessarily the easiest thing in the world to do. It could also be a primary physical custody arrangement if you guys are geographically separated, and the non custodial parent gets the kids for a larger chunk of time in the summer. Even if it’s a very large chunk of time in the summer, it might still be hard to get to that 90 day threshold.

Remember, now, that judges have to consider all forms of custody equally, so they’re looking at shared custody with at least equal preference.

Shared Physical Custody

In a shared physical custody arrangement, the non custodial parent has 90 or more days in a calendar year, so there are even more different variations of how custody could be shared between two parents under this model.

We see a lot of week on/week off custody, and it’s probably safe to say that this is an arrangement that judges tend to like. At any rate, it’s easy to understand, though you may be feeling that this may or may not be the best arrangement for children who are in school.

We see parents share days on an alternating schedule, too – say, 4-3-3-4, or something similar. We also sometimes have parents where one parent has the children during the week, and another has the children on the weekend.

A lot has to do with each parent’s work schedule, and the time that they have to devote to the children during a given time. For, say, a military parent who is deployable, or a parent who travels a considerable portion of the time, it may be that a typical arrangement like week on/week off, or 4-3-3-4, don’t work so well.

What if my child’s father doesn’t work a consistent schedule?

If your child’s father’s schedule is weird, you may find that your custodial schedule is similarly unusual. It may not seem fair, that you have to continually rearrange your life because his is inconsistent (that’s a frequent complaint I get from military wives, especially), but his ability to be present in the children’s lives is an argument that the court often finds pretty compelling. You’ll likely have to offer make up time to accommodate for, say, his drill schedule or various deployments, which harkens back to those best interests of the child factors.

Though you may have to be flexible more often than you’d like (especially given his rigidity when, say, you ask to trade dates or for more time), I often find that it’s more advantageous, when it comes to custody, to be the parent with the more consistent schedule. It often does mean, by default, that you get more time, just because you’re more available.

Rights of First Refusal

We can also include, whether in custody arrangements ordered in court or in agreements that we reach, rights of first refusal. A right of first refusal is when you say that when a biological parent is unable to care for the child for a period of a certain number of hours (4 or 8 or even 24) that the other parent must be offered the child before the child is placed in the care of a babysitter or other non-parent (like a grandparent). If your child’s father’s plan is to get as much time as possible (to keep his child support obligation low) and then delegate that time, say, to his mother (who you never liked in the first place), a right of first refusal might be a good inclusion for you.

Courts like these because they maximize the amount of time that a parent is able to care for the child, instead of having the child in daycare or in the care of a non-parent.

Split Physical Custody

Split physical custody is unusual, mostly because judges don’t like to split up siblings. It can happen, though, and not just in movies! (Hey, we all saw The Parent Trap, right?)

Though it’s rare that it would be a TRUE Parent Trap arrangement where one parent had one child and the other parent kept the other child, and they NEVER saw each other or the other child (yikes – sounds terrible, doesn’t it?), that is one possibility. More likely, though, the parents trade the children around at intervals, with them spending some time with both parents and the other sibling.

I’ve seen a judge do it in at least one case, but, most often, when this happens its because the parents agree to it. I see it mostly where one sibling has special needs that make what is appropriate for him different from what is appropriate for the other siblings.

If this sounds ideal to you, it’s probably a good idea to enlist the support of a lawyer to get some tips about how to get a split physical custody arrangement in place.