When I was going through my divorce 11 years ago, I had the feeling that most divorced couples were still doing the traditional custody arrangement, where Mom has the kids during the week, and Dad gets them one night a week and every other weekend. Especially in the case where Mom was a stay-at-home mom. I have a feeling that 50/50 custody splits started to become more common a few years after I got divorced.
These days I hear about 50/50 custody arrangements all the time, and I have to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it. I think every divorce case is unique, and that different custody arrangements work for different couples depending on a few factors that include:
1. How much each parent works outside the home, the location of their job and what they do.
2. How much custody each parent wants and feels like they can handle.
3. The age of the kids.
4. The relationships of the kids with each parent.
5. The circumstances of the divorce.
6. Where each parent lives.
7. The personalities of each kid and under which custody arrangement they will thrive the most.
In other words, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to custody arrangements. 50/50 custody can be great or awful, and the traditional every other weekend custody arrangement can be great or awful. That’s why choosing the right plan, FOR THE RIGHT REASONS is so crucial.
Here are the right reasons for choosing a custody arrangement:
1. What’s best for the kids.
2. What the parents really want and think they can handle.
3. What the kids want.
Here are the wrong reasons for choosing a certain arrangement:
1. Child support will be less if I have the kids more. (or child support will be more if I have the kids more)
2. Anger/wanting to hurt the spouse by taking the kids.
3. Jealously of a new relationship/not wanting the kids to be around the new spouse.
4. Not wanting the kids to be around the new spouse (for legitimate reasons).
5. Feeling guilty because you feel like you should see your kids more than every other weekend.
6. Caring what others will think if you don’t have your kids 50/50.
7. Being scared to have the kids too much or not enough.
8. Because your family or friend or attorney suggests a custody arrangement they think is right for you.
Here is an email I recently received from a reader struggling with this situation:
My soon-to-be-ex & I have two boys ages 14 & 10. We are 8-months into our separation. We met with a mediator two weeks ago, agreed to parenting time, child support, etc. and now – only weeks away from signing on the dotted line – he changes his mind about our parenting time agreement, which of course alters the child support plan to his benefit. After months of anticipating having my boys during the school week & every other weekend (about an 80/20 split), my STBE decided he wasn’t ok with that, and wanted 50/50 custody time – the whole “5 you, 5 me, 2 you, 2 me” fiasco that I 100% disagree with. I think mid-week kid-swapping is a roadblock to their school success. What are the positives and negatives of 50/50 custody versus a traditional arrangement? And-how in the hell do you make the tears and guilt stop?! I keep thinking, “I’d rather be back in my loveless marriage and faking it than living in this personal hell!!! It’s too late for that, but I still think about it.
My thoughts on this situation are as follows. I think mediation is a great way to get divorced, but no one should settle for something they don’t feel comfortable with just to get the divorce over with. Trust me, I’ve been here.
If this woman doesn’t feel good about the 50/50 custody, she needs to let her attorney know, and maybe even try talking with her ex husband. She should definitely not give into it. Maybe she could ask her husband if the reason is for the reduced child support. “Just be completely honest,” she could say. She could offer to let him pay less child support even though she has 80/20. That is an option if she can handle it financially.
To put myself in the husband’s shoes, maybe it isn’t about the money. Maybe he is panicking, because who wouldn’t panic if they were only going to see their kids all of a sudden once every other weekend?? I get it! So I understand both sides of this.
I’m not a huge fan of kids going back and forth every week to each of their parent’s houses. It has never sat well with me, but maybe I’m old school. That said, if the situation is right, and if both parents really want it and can handle it, 50/50 custody can probably work. And, to address her school concern, if both parents are willing to co-parent (meaning communicate frequently with each other about structure and rules with the kids and being on the same page) then I don’t see a problem. In other words, if the TV is off at Mom’s house every day after school until 7pm, then it needs to be that way at Dad’s. If Dad requires an hour of reading every night before bed, Mom needs to do that, too.
Lastly, let me address this: “I’d rather be back in my loveless marriage and faking it than living in this personal hell!!! It’s too late for that, but I still think about it.”
No!!!!!!!!! Please don’t panic. Your gut told you divorce was right. You would not have gone through with it if you didn’t know deep down it was the right decision. Don’t let the stress of the divorce process cloud your judgment. You will agree on divorce terms at some point and you will sign a decree, and then life will start to get better and better. But I will stress again, do not agree to a custody agreement you don’t feel comfortable to. I don’t like to promote litigation, but if it has to come to that to do what you feel is best for your children, then that’s what it will be.
In closing, whatever custody arrangement a couple chooses to go with—50/50 or a more traditional arrangement, remember that it can always be modified—nothing is set in stone forever. That means, you can go back to court at any time to modify child custody arrangements. Also, as kids get older and things change, the custody schedule you put in place usually gets thrown into a drawer because what ends up happening is, the kids get older and they have their own plans, so they don’t really care or want to stay with either of you! Who they are staying with becomes about their plans and schedules and what they’ve got going on and what is the most convenient for everyone. In other words, I have found that custody arrangements are much less rigid as time goes by.
But for now, both parents should be completely honest about what they really want and need when it comes to parenting time. And lastly, parenting time is precious, so whatever time you do spend, make the most of it!
Like this post? Check out, “The Vindictive Ex: When Hate Comes Before The Children”