There was a time when it was typical for children after divorce to have a primary residence with one parent and visit with the other parent on an every-other-weekend rhythm. This arrangement still provides a model for post-divorce two-home families when it serves the needs of children and parents. What’s most important about a residential schedule however, is that it reflects both parents’ ability to love, care for and remain engaged in their children’s lives.

Research supports that children do best when both parents work together, stay engaged, and participate in all aspects of parenting post-divorce.

Primary schedules generally refer to schedules where children live in one home with one parent for 11 or more overnights out of every two weeks. For kids, this results in a “home base” with one parent, and a predictable pattern of contact with the other. There are many good reasons for a primary schedule, which include accommodating a parent’s work schedule, a child’s particular need for stability, or parents’ shared value for a single home base for their children.

Shared schedules on the other hand, generally refer to schedules where children reside with both parents four or more overnights in a two-week period. These schedules typically create an opportunity for children to feel “at home” with each parent. Shared schedules are structured with enough time in each household to encourage resting in and participating fully—a home with each parent rather than living with one and visiting with the other. An equally shared schedule would indicate that each parent has seven overnights out of every 14 designated in a predictable rhythm.

You may notice that we don’t use the word “custody.” We prefer “residential time” or “parenting time” as an update to the term “custody”. Ideally, during and after divorce, children are cared for by both parents on an agreed upon schedule (whether primary or shared), and neither parent has sole responsibility for the care and protection of a child, which custody more aptly describes. There are situations however, where one parent is both primary and sole care-provider, though this is less and less common and generally is the result of complex adult challenges.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book THE PARENTING PLAN HANDBOOK.  For more information on Karen or her book, you’re invited to visit