If you are going through a divorce, there will likely be a lot of discussion about how to share time with your children. Of course, you want to maximize every minute possible with your children, but so does your ex. Sometimes, divorcing parents can get stuck on the number of days, nights, minutes, each will spend with the children. Many parents will assume a 50/50 schedule will be the best idea, or maybe even as a starting expectation. But what does 50/50 really mean and is it really good for the children?
The best thing you and your ex can do is stay away from the 'numbers'. One thing is certain in these types of case, your child is never counting and comparing the number of days, nights, or minutes they have with each parent. They are much more concerned about the quality of the time they get to spend with each of you. Now don't get me wrong, children care about things being “fair”, especially if they are school-aged (e.g., 7-11).
A common misperception about child custody laws is that a 50/50 plan benefits both the children and the parents. In fact, I was invited to our state capital (Columbia, S.C.) this week to provide testimony against one such bill which starts with a presumption of equal parenting time in all child custody cases. Those speaking in favor of such bills will often start that the "research" says this or that in favor of such presumptions. As a father who has been through two divorces with children, sometimes people are surprised that my position is, and always has been, against such a presumption. One of the main reasons is because of what the studies actually show on this issue.
What the Research Really Says
Psychologists are starting to do more research on shared custody and joint custody, especially since there is a huge push nationally for shared custody to be a legal presumption in all custody cases. In other words, this presumption would mean that every family who divorces with children would have a shared custody plan as part of their Final Order unless there are some significant problems which would make such an arrangement as a danger to either the parties or the children. However, that's not actually what the research says. Yes, it's true there are major benefits to children having a lot of parenting time with each parent. And yes, we know that the old school, traditional schedule of fathers having every other weekend (Fri-Sun) and one daytime visit during the school week is really not enough time for kids in every situation. The children in those scenarios typically don't like it. They miss their non-custodial parent.
What we don't know for sure from the research is that "shared", "50/50" custody, is actually good for children. And we definitely don't know that it is “best” for children.
Most of the research available on shared and/or joint custody defines "shared custody" as 30/70, 40/60 and 50/50. It doesn't just look at 50/50 custody. So what does that mean? Well, think about life from your children's perspective. 30/70 is about 10 nights/month, while 50/50 is about 15 nights/month or one extra night/week at the minimum. That may not seem like a big difference but from the child's perspective, that extra night can have a significant practical and emotional impact. The reason a 50/50 presumption should never be applied across the board is that it takes away a court's ability to judge all the nuances of what makes every family different. For example, the parents and the court will never be able to consider questions such as:
What if one of the children has a tough temperament? You know the type. It's hard to get them to do anything and they don't handle change well.
What if one of your children is has terrible organizational skills? Then what?
And what happens if you and your ex don't get along well. Then what?
What if you and your ex live 30 minutes away from each other? Then what?
You can see how the list of questions goes on. No two families are exactly alike and therefore designing a cookie-cutter approach to custody plans and parenting time schedules will always be impossible. It will never be as simple as evaluating the number of days on a calendar. In order to truly figure out what's best for the children involved, we have to focus on your children and your family situation very specifically, not just what each parent wants to get out of the situation. We know this makes things a little more difficult on the front end and will necessarily require more effort on each side to compromise on what is best, but we are here to help.
Our firm has provided exceptional legal counsel and support to families throughout South Carolina for over two decades, handling all matters of family law, such as child custody, child support, and divorce. We are well-equipped to handle all divorce and family law matters, no matter your circumstances. Contact us to schedule your initial consultation to find out how we can help you.