A small article in the July 6, 2008 Parade magazine had some interesting comments about fathers' roles with their children after a divorce. The story mentioned the obvious, that many fathers lose contact with their children after a divorce and that most fathers are given the right to see their children two weekends a month and a few hours during the week. The Texas standard possession schedule is actually more generous than what Parade mentioned, but it still constitutes a huge change for those fathers who are used to seeing and interacting with their children every day.
There were two alternatives mentioned in the article that were interesting. One, which is becoming more common, is to have equal time. It used to be that judges would never consider that. Now, however, there seems to be more openness to such an approach. “Equal time” is easy to discuss in the abstract, but can be complicated when day care, homework, school activities and extra-curricular activities are factored in. Sometimes, religious activities also complicate matters. It's probably too early to say that there is a consensus that such a time sharing is good or bad for the kids or that both parents like the arrangement. Trying such an approach would require a lot of cooperation and maturity with the parents. Living close together would also be helpful. If parents really think they want to try to share time equally, they would be well advised to bring in a child specialist who could help them work through the practical details and adjustments that would be required for success.
Another possibility is to set a proportionate schedule where each parent has the children about the same amount of time that they were with the children when the couple was together. Of course, there are some potential difficulties with that approach. The parties would need to live near each other, preferably in the same school district, so there wouldn't be much travel time. Another complication is when one or both parents change jobs, or start working, which could affect the time availability for the parents. Also, a parent may not have been able to spend much time with the children for a period just before the separation, but now is able and wanting to spend more time with the children.
A complication under both approaches is how to handle child support. Sometimes, with equal time, neither party pays child support; many such parents refuse to pay child support because the other parent does not have “primary possession” of the children. In other cases, child support is figured for each parent and then the higher-income parent pays the difference (or half the difference) in the two amounts to the other parent.
Other issues to be resolved include the right to the tax exemptions for the children and the right to make certain essential decisions, such as medical care and education, for the children.
How to be a successful custody innovator:
1. Don't limit yourself to preconceived ideas or standard approaches.
2. At the same time, even though a particular plan may have worked for someone you know, don't assume that it will automatically work for you.
3. The parents must communicate well with each other for a major time-sharing arrangement to work.
4. Parents must be willing to live near each other and have a lot of contact after the divorce.
5. Counseling or co-parenting classes can help foster the right parental attitudes.
6. Parents probably need to consult with a child specialist to work out the details, especially if they try something really exotic. Keep in mind the children's ages and emotional development.
7. Always check with your attorney to find out if your judge is likely to accept what you are proposing.
Hopefully, you will come up with an appropriate, effective, comfortable plan for sharing time with your children in a less stressful and more supportive atmosphere for them.