Separate BUT Equal: Creating a successful co-parenting schedule after separation or divorce

By, Felicia A. Soleil, Attorney at Law/Mediator

In this column a few months ago, I wrote about creating a fun, fluid, and flexible summertime schedule for children of two-home families. Now that school is back in session, you’ll want to maximize quality time together while within the parameters of the school schedule.  However, be careful that your own parental needs don’t negatively impact their academic potential.  In my work as a family law mediator, I’ll often hear the following complaints:

  • “My co-parent and I have a ‘50/50’ parenting plan, but I counted the days on the calendar and he gets more than me. That’s not fair. It should be equal.”
  • “We alternate school breaks and holidays, but some years she gets more time than I do. Shouldn’t we have the same exact amount?”
  • “I have Tuesdays and Sundays off from work, and only one full weekend a month, so the kids stay with their mom during school days. But shouldn’t I be allowed to have my kids overnight on my days off, even if they have school the next day? I should have the experience of putting them to bed and getting them ready for school, too.”

When parents present to mediation wanting to justify their argument for adding “more time,” my first question to them is, “How will this benefit their children? Have you considered the child’s point of view?”  Many times these parents are so adamant about wanting to be “equal parents” they focus on counting hours and days of residential time, rather than focusing on communication, joint decision-making,  participation in children’s activities, and other ways to feel included in their children’s lives when not under the same roof.

Sometimes, these parents are driven by a need to control the parenting style of the other parent, or are resentful that, now separated, the other parent is more involved with the children than during the marriage. In other words, they don’t “deserve” to be an “equal parent.” Other times, there are parents who equate less time with their children to being “less of a parent.” Rather than focusing on maximizing the quality of the time they do spend with their children, they want to increase the hours (even if only sleeping hours) to correct any perceived “imbalance” between them and their co-parent.

Here are things I ask them to consider:

  1. Will the schedule promote or hinder the children’s ability to get settled and have adequate sleep on school nights? This includes decreased negative impact on healthy wake-up times.
  2. Will the schedule promote or hinder the children’s ability to do homework? This includes reducing a child’s worry they won’t get adequate assistance or get it completed on time.
  3. Will the schedule increase or decrease the number of transfers the children make between parents during a school week? How much of that “extra” time a parent wants will actually be spent in a car or re-organizing school clothes, supplies, etc.?
  4. Will the schedule reduce or increase a child’s anxiety about who will be picking them up from school, who will take them to practice or a game, who they should ask if they are invited to a friend’s birthday party or sleepover? No child wants to give up time with friends or activities due to a guilt trip laid on them by a possessive parent. (“But that’s MY time with you!”)

I also frequently ask parents:

Imagine you are each of your children living the proposed schedule. With success in school being the focus for the week, how does all the back and forth feel? Are you rested, able to focus, and confident you’ll get to activities on time? Do you feel assured that you have the support of BOTH of your parents, even though you share your time with them separately?

Sometimes, putting the parents in their children’s shoes is all it takes to resolve the issue of separate BUT equal.

Through her practice, Family Law Resolutions, Felicia Soleil helps her clients in achieving outcomes that foster both a compassionate ending to their union and a healthy new beginning for them and their families so they can focus on moving on, rather than simply moving out.  Felicia can be reached at 253-853-6940.  All consultations are strictly confidential.

Published on Sepember 4, 2019