One of the areas in child custody matters that is being advocated by certain groups is to have what has been called an equal parenting plan.
It is a plan where the actual, physical time a child spends with both parents is equal or very close to equal.
While the concept of equal time is appealing, the reality is that it is impractical because children have different needs at different ages. If you have a child who is young, going through their middle-school years or is in high school, those children need different types of parenting.
Moms and Dads have different skills and experiences that they bring to the table and that children need at different times in their lives.
Having a possession period that is strictly equal in terms of time means that you are missing some of those benefits to the child that they need at different times in their life.
The Texas legislative proposed a bill that did not recognize how equal time requirements may actually cause major disruptions in children’s lives.
For example, a 12-year-old boy may forget his baseball cleats at dad’s house when he goes to stay with mom. If the parents have an equal parenting schedule that has the child going back and forth between the parents’ houses every other day or week, special attention should be given to make sure that there are ways to avoid the child or the parents being upset by such things as forgotten cleats.
Much of the time when people go to Court for issues such as this, the court is doing more problem-solving than resolving disputes. It should not be about the parents having a stopwatch and calculating how they can each have exactly the same amount of time with the child. If parents are cooperative, they can often solve these issues themselves by such things as having two pairs of cleats, for example, one pair at each parent’s house. The goal should be always what’s in the best interest of an individual child.
House Bill 453 would have made it a presumption that the court shall create a visitation schedule that’s equal or would deviate no more than five days from equal. The danger of this is that parents may spend more time counting days than focusing on the quality of the time each parent spends with the child.
Illustrations: Suppose Dad has always gone to the Boy Scout meetings each Tuesday night with his son. If the Court sets out a parenting plan/custody and visitation time where Mom has every Tuesday night, she can go to scouts with the son, but if both parents are involved, maybe Dad is the one who does scouting and Mom has other areas of involvement.
If the parents are flexible, they can work this out between them so that the children benefit from each parent’s unique talents and gifts, but if they can’t cooperate the Court may establish an equal parenting time plan that has the child with the parent on a night that interferes with an activity that the other parent and child enjoy doing together.
Once again, that is about what parents can bring to their co-parenting skills and not about each parent keeping track of the exact time they have with the child.
When you have visitation periods where the parents do not work together to co-parent the child, you will find that if one parent signs up the child for some sort of activity that bleeds over into the other parent’s visitation period, then the child doesn’t get to participate in that activity. In most cases, court orders don’t mandate that one parent can step on the other parent’s possession. No court is going to micromanage to the point where you are not going to have some problems, and no court order will make people be good parents. When you have children and you have a co-parenting plan, it really depends on how focused the individual parents are in looking after the best interests of the child. Rarely does that come down to getting your stopwatch out and saying, “There’s equal time.”
The bottom line is that the best interests of the child are what happens when you are in a relationship with your child during the time that you are with them. How you parent and help raise those children to be healthy adults is the key to good parenting even after a divorce.