Custody: What are your options?
The types of custody situations that you should be prepared to consider when you start the divorce process with minor-aged children are generally standard. The path to getting to the place where you are agreeing on a schedule is not. For a couple with children deciding to divorce in California you will file with the courts and then receive your date for Family Court Mediation where you will meet with a mental health professional and then a court date with whichever judge’s courtroom you are assigned. Or you can file and meet with a mediator of your choice and work through all the details.
Family Court Mediation
Between your decision to file for divorce and your date with FMC you will have to figure out your custody schedule on your own. If the divorce is contentious then this can be a tenuous time. Often, the Family Court Mediator — who is a mental health professional, not an attorney — will attempt to keep the schedule that the children have become accustomed to for a sense of consistency. That means you need to be very careful about the schedule you set between the time you file for divorce and the date of FMC because that very well might be the schedule they recommend.
When you’re in FMC you do not have to agree to a schedule during the session. If you don’t, the FMC professional will make their recommendation to the judge and you will have to plead your case as to why you don’t agree with a professional’s recommendation in court. Your co-parent will do the same. And then it is out of your hands as you wait for the judge to make a decision. And that will be that.
The other alternative of course is private mediation. In private mediation we can determine custody immediately and not be at the mercy of the court’s schedule. We will work together to determine what is best for the children. That may mean having separate private meetings with your mediator so you can speak freely, or it could be as simple as looking at a calendar and each parent’s availability and flexibility side by side along with the children’s schedules. We will come to an agreement as soon as possible so that the children can have consistency. We can also schedule in a ramped up custody schedule to allow the children to transition to their new normal in phases.
There are a few general custody schedule options. The basic options are 2-2-3, 2-5-5-2, and week on/week off.
A 2-2-3 is a two week cycle where the children are with parent A on Monday and Tuesday and the weekend of Week 1 and then Wednesday and Thursday of Week 2 with Parent B having the alternative, meaning that no parent goes more than 3 days without seeing the children.
A 2-5-5-2 (also known as a 2-5 or a 5-2) allows both parents to have the same weekdays and alternating weekends. It is also a two week cycle. So Parent A has Monday and Tuesday and the weekend of Week 1 and then Monday and Tuesday of Week 2. Parent B has Wednesday and Thursday every week. This means each parent will have five consecutive days every two weeks. Many families like the consistency of planning, knowing they will always or will never have their kids on a specific weekday, while other parents can’t fathom going five days without seeing the children.
Week on/Week off
Finally, there is the week on/week off schedule which is exactly how it sounds. Seven straight days with Parent A followed by seven straight days with Parent B. This minimizes interaction between parents who have tension but can be a very long time for children to go without seeing their other parent.
Most Family Court Mediators will stick to this schedule, though accommodations are made with the age of the children or parent’s work schedules. When you work with a private mediator, you can have much more control in customizing a custody schedule that is fair and appropriate. Some clients have done week on/week off but with Wednesday at the other parent. Some have a modified 2-2-3 with an extra day thrown in so it looks more like a 3-1-3/2-2-3. Others cannot accommodate the carpool and extra curricular activities so they choose visitation two days a week and every other weekend. Many couples will return to a private mediator as their children age and their needs change or as their careers change and their capabilities change.
There is no right or wrong custody schedule, there is only the one that is right for your family and for your co-parenting. The #1 priority is your children’s current needs and working with private mediation services is the best way to retain some control and figure it out as soon as possible.