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Figuring out the best parenting schedule for your children is an important part of co-parenting. A parenting schedule is a detailed outline for how children will spend time with each parent and can be formalised by way of a parenting plan or parenting court orders.  It describes the default routine for time sharing, although parents are able to agree on changes between them when necessary.  Schedules cover regular arrangements (the basic repeating cycle), as well as schedules for school holidays and special occasions. Here, we take a look at what you should consider when developing your family’s parenting schedule.

Sometimes, parents share custody of the children on a 50:50 basis.  Sometimes a parent is the primary carer and the other parent spends time with the children for periods of hours, days or weeks, depending on the situation.  

You can negotiate your parenting schedule privately, or with the help of mediation or other Alternative Dispute Resolution process, but sometimes there’s the need for court intervention to set the schedule.  If you’ve just separated, you might want to consider making a temporary schedule until you and your co-parent can agree on more permanent arrangements.

Essential considerations for a parenting schedule

1. The schedule should describe arrangements in crystal clear terms.

2. The schedule should fulfil the physical, emotional and social needs of your children.

3. Remember that different kinds of schedules work better for kids of different ages, so consider seeking advice about what arrangements might be age- and developmentally-appropriate.

4. Obviously parenting schedules need to work around each parent’s work (or other) commitments.

5. Distances between parents’ homes and between parents’ homes and schools, for instance, will also need to be considered when working out practical arrangements.

6. Think about the practicalities of changeovers so that they fit in well with your child’s routines. Changeovers for school children often work well at the end of the school day, and this means parents don’t need to come into contact with each other at changeovers either.

7. The schedule should allow for children’s extracurriculars.

8. Schedules often build in time with other siblings who may not live with the child, and other family members.

9. Consider what your child’s preferences might be (this will depend on your child’s age and maturity) but ultimately work the best schedule out with your co-parent.

10.  Bear your child’s temperament and any special needs in mind.  Some children can’t handle frequent change or need much more consistency, and some special needs children will need their schedule adapted to incorporate medical care appointments and the like.  You may find a schedule with less exchanges and more block time with each parent works better.  On the other hand, arrangements where there is frequent regular contact with each parent might be more suitable for your particular child.

Special situations

1. If one parent lives a long distance away, create a long distance parenting plan which incorporates details on who is in charge of making travel arrangements, how parents will pay for the children’s travel, and details of how things will work when the parent visits the child, and so on.

2. Consider a “step-up” schedule which gradually increases the duration and frequency of visits.  This often suits situations where a parent has not yet been very involved in the child’s life.

3. If there is a high conflict relationship between the parents, the schedule may need to be more prescriptive and allow for less flexibility.

After you’ve given thought to all of these aspects, you can create some draft schedules to bring to negotiations. You might prepare multiple draft proposals for how things could work in order to be able to present your co-parent with options. It can help to set up a visual calendar showing time proposals for everyone’s ease of reference.

You might also like to read our blog on must-haves for your parenting plan.

If you are unsure what the best parenting time arrangement would be for your family, give us a call for advice–your first, no-obligation conference is completely free.  We can assist you to develop a parenting plan and parenting schedule and formalise it with consent orders, or we can advise you how best to proceed if you are unable to reach agreement with your co-parent. Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.

Please note our blogs are not legal advice.  For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.

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