It is obvious to parents that children have different needs at different ages. It is not always obvious to the family court that this statement applies to parenting plans. The court standard of “best interests of the child” is different for children of different ages.
Children age two and under are working on attachment and basic trust in their caretakers and their environment. When parents are separated they need frequent short visits with each parent and consistency with the primary attachment figure. The routines at both houses need to be the same and the cooperation between the parents must be good for the child to go back and forth. If mother is the primary attachment figure, father needs a few hours each day to spend time with the child.
Children from three to five are becoming more independent and verbal. They can do two to three nights in a row at each house. However, they have a hard time being away from either parent more than three days unless it is for a vacation. The 2-2-3 schedules works well for this age. In this schedule one parent has Monday and Tuesday overnight, and the other parent has Wednesday and Thursday overnight. Then the first parent has Friday, Saturday, and Sunday overnights. In the next week the schedule is reversed.
School age children from six to thirteen are the most flexible and can adapt to a variety of parenting schedules. If parenting time is split 50/50, the usual schedule is called a 2-2-5-5. In this schedule one parent always has Monday and Tuesday overnights and the other always has Wednesday and Thursday overnights. They alternate the weekend from Friday to Sunday overnights. Children of this age have many activities and the parents must work together to get them to scheduled events and plans with friends. Basic routines should be the same at both houses.
Teens, like preschoolers, present their own unique needs. If they have a schedule they are most likely to stay with that schedule if the parent’s live close enough to enable them to socialize with friends and attend their activities. If the divorce occurs in their teenage years, they will want to have some voice in how the schedule is made. Parents need to consider their desires, but make it clear that they are making the decision so that the teen does not get caught in the middle. They often prefer to have one home be the primary home and this reflects the teen’s focus on their own needs, not necessarily a preference for that parent. It is also important for parents to have the same rules as a teen will choose the most lenient parent and sabotage the co-parenting relationship. Teens are not likely to want to spend quality time with either parent as they are focused on their own life.
Children are resilient and able to adapt to any schedule and there is no research that documents one schedule as being better than another. Parents must find a way to share the parenting that fits the needs of all the family members in the best possible manner.