How to Create a Parenting Schedule After Separation or Divorce

Creating a parenting schedule is one of the first things that happens on separation or divorce, because it’s what follows directly after a move from one home into two.  Both parents need to be able to see the children, and a schedule is the easiest way to make sure that happens.  Creating one isn’t always that easy.  Here’s some ideas to make it easier.

Where can parents start when they’re looking to create a schedule for parenting of their children in two homes?

There are two basic parts to any parenting schedule:

  • Regular schedule – which will typically be the school-based schedule if your children are of that age
  • Holiday schedule – this will typically be for times when the children are out of school

In this blog we will focus on the regular schedule, and next week we will have a look at how to create a holiday-based schedule.

When considering what a regular schedule would look like, some families generally know what would work for their family.  For others, it’s more difficult to come up with that schedule.

If families need some help in coming up with that schedule, here’s a few tips:

Start by considering generally how the time will be broken up

Some families do weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other;

Some start by committing to keeping the number of days even throughout the month;

Others want to generally have an exchange every few days.

Start with the general concepts.

Next, the more consistency that parents can create for children the better.  For instance: 

Maybe you want to have the exchange day as a consistent day or time each week

Or maybe it’s around a consistent event like always before a particular meal or after a particular routine like a nap, so the children get used to when transitions will happen.

To layer on top of that, parents should look at practical things like: 

  • What is each parent’s work schedule?
  • What is the children’s school, daycare, and activity schedule?

This will help them to build a logical and sustainable parenting schedule around their lives.

I encourage parents to come up with a schedule they think may work, and try it for a period of time, like at least 4-6 weeks, to see how the entire family adapts. Then come back to discuss any changes that may be needed.

And finally, there’s tons of resources online to help families come up with a schedule that’s right for you.  It can be vitally important to your children’s well-being to take a developmental approach to building any parenting schedule or parenting plan.  Check out our Interview Series video with Karen Bonnell for helpful tips.

What does it mean to take a developmental approach to a parenting schedule for children? 

Typically families I work with will come in with their own ideas which will usually create a starting point for a schedule.

Then from there, I usually ask how things have been going.  That will give me a good glimpse into how the children are adapting to the two-home schedule.

When we talk about “developmentally appropriate” plan, it means that we look at things like:

  • The children’s age
  • Their stage of development
  • Their temperament
  • Their ability to adapt to changes
  • any particular considerations for their children such as any special needs

In essence, this means that parents should be mindful of each of their children individually, what they need, and how they will each cope with any particular schedule.  Some parents may find that they need to make individualized schedules based on individualized needs, rather than lumping children together in one group plan.  Again, check out our Interview Series video with Karen Bonnell for helpful tips.

What about when changes or flexibility is needed – can you give parents some ideas of how to deal with special requests? 

Into every plan, I recommend negotiating a formula for how to deal with change requests.

There are various types of requests:

There are situations where a parent cannot make their parenting time because something has come up – in those instances usually parents will integrate something called a right of first refusal – this is where an on-duty parent who needs child care is required to give the opportunity to the other parent before a child care provider to care for the children.  This is always an opportunity not an obligation for the off-duty parent.

There are situations where a parent wants to exchange time because they have a special occasion or holiday coming up – parents should provide in their agreement as to how they are going to deal with these requests – are there a certain number of days or weeks ahead that notice needs to be given? What if it won’t work for the scheduled parent? How will that dispute be resolved?

What if a major change is required to the parenting schedule because of life changes – for instance, if a parent’s work schedule changes or children’s activities or life schedule changes? It’s a good idea to set out how major changes will be negotiated.

In the end, it’s important to ensure that you provide enough notice to each other as parents as to any change requests so that there will be time to negotiate these things.



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