Let me start by stating that I fully understand if you are co-parenting with a partner that does not compromise with you. Trust me when I say that my co-parenting situation with my ex-husband has not always been cooperative. It’s taken a lot of effort and adaptation on both of our parts to get to the cooperation level we are at now. If you’re co-parenting with a partner who is uncooperative and not willing to deviate from the schedules on your parenting plans, it’s probably best for you to try to plan your life as if that co-parenting schedule is set in stone.
That being said, 50/50 co-parenting plan schedules are not meant to be set in stone. They are meant to be flexible in certain circumstances, and it’s in the best interest of both the parents and the children when co-parenting plans are able to be flexible. Here’s why:
The simplified version of the way most 50/50 joint custody parenting plan schedules are written:
-Parent A has children on certain days at certain times.
-Parent B has children on certain days at certain times.
And for holidays and vacation:
-Parent A has these holidays on even years and gets X amount of time for an annual vacation.
-Parent B has these holidays on odd years and gets X amount of time for an annual vacation.
However, most co-parenting plans also have a statement similar to the following:
“Residential Schedules: The parents shall have physical custody of the children as they agree. In the event they do not agree, then the parents shall exchange the children as set forth in the residential schedules. Each parent shall consider reasonable changes when requested by the other parent or the children.”
The reason that statement exists in most parenting plans is that while a 50/50 co-parenting plan is a schedule which is laid out in black and white, life is not black and white.
Parents should try as much as possible to keep the children on a consistent schedule. Consistency makes it easier on both the children and co-parents. However, sometimes special circumstances come along and a deviation from the schedule is needed.
The following are just a few examples in which co-parents should allow a flexible schedule:
- One parent has to go out of town for an extended period of time–Earlier this year, boys’ father had an opportunity to do work for the Super Bowl. It was a great opportunity for him, but it meant that he would be gone for a total of nine consecutive days. He discussed this with me in advance, so that I could make arrangements to keep the boys for the nine days he was gone. When he returned, he kept them for eight straight days to ensure he was able to make up most of the time he missed due to work. Then we returned to our regular schedule. He has done the same sort of swap of time for me in the past when I’ve had to be out of town for overnight work training, so I was happy to make arrangements for him in return.
- Special events scheduled by third parties. Of course when parents can be in control of planning special events/celebrations, we do so based on the time when we are scheduled to have the children. But there are some occasions in a child’s life for which we don’t have that control. For example, my first grade son’s school has an annual “Mom Prom” (mother-son dance). If the event does not fall on my scheduled time with my son, I communicate that with his father so that our son and I can attend. Similarly, if the boys’ father gets tickets from his work for a sporting event that he wants to take the boys to and it falls on my scheduled time, I let them go to the game with him. If either of us are worried about making up the time, we work it out so that I get the boys an extra afternoon or few hours in the evening on his time and vice versa. Unless I already had an important family event previously planned, I make every attempt to let my children go to any special event that interests them, no matter whose time it falls on.
- Extended family events. Although we are the primary caregivers, parents are not the only important people in a child’s life. Special extended family events should also take precedence over normal parenting plan schedules. For example if dad’s annual family reunion gets scheduled on a weekend the children are with mom, then mom should make reasonable effort to ensure the children are able to attend their family’s reunion. Other family members’ birthday parties, baptisms, graduations, etc, are other examples of special events that if co-parents are flexible with their 50/50 schedule, then children will not have to miss out on wonderful opportunities to connect with their extended families.
Any type of co-parenting takes good communication and a mindset of putting the children’s needs first. While a consistent co-parenting schedule is best for the children most of time, when life presents a special circumstance, having a little flexibility and cooperation is the key to successful co-parenting. In the grand scheme of things, think not about the time you are losing with your children (because most of the time, a flexible co-parent will allow you to make up the lost time as needed anyway), think instead of what your children will gain: more opportunities to have valuable life experiences and more special memories made. They deserve it.