There are a few go-to joint child custody schedules that tend to suit a large number of families in California child custody cases. A custody and visitation schedule explains how a family plans to divide parenting time of a child or children.
Every family is different, and every custody arrangement should be tailored to fit the needs of each family, especially the children; but the are only so many ways days/weeks/months can be divided between parents.
The Best Child Custody Arrangements [Popular Visitation Schedules]
Whether parents have a full agreement regarding custody, reach an agreement in child custody mediation, or engage in a custody battle in California family court, it is important to understand each of these common arrangements, so that parents can make educated requests and agreements to benefit their children.
At the end of the day, each of these arrangements has pros and cons, and no schedule is going to be perfect right off the shelf. All four of these arrangements offer what amounts to essentially a “50/50 timeshare,” though child support should always be a secondary concern when considering these schedules.
Common Schedules for Joint Physical Custody
California family courts prefer to give children significant time with both parents whenever it’s in their best interests. Parents trying to create or modify a visitation schedule for their children with this in mind can refer to these popular parenting schedules for ideas.
#1 – Week On Week Off (Every Other Week) Custody Schedule
Week on, week off (or alternating weeks) is a schedule where the parents share custody of their child or children on a weekly basis. This means that exchanges occur on a particular day, at a particular time (for example, every Friday at 6 p.m.), every week. The child or children spends 7 days with one parent, followed by 7 days with the other parent.
The pros of this schedule are fairly obvious: longer periods of time with each parent and without exchanges. When children are a bit older, such as teens, this schedule may be well-suited to their needs. Older children have already established and cemented their bonds with both parents, so spending longer periods of time away from each parent is not going to impact those established bonds.
This schedule can sometimes work well for young children between the ages of about 2 and 5 years old as well because they have not yet started school, but are sometimes able to spend one week away from each parent.
On the other hand, the cons of this schedule are also fairly obvious, children are away from both parents for extended periods of time and tend to feel like they “live out of a suitcase.”
#2 – 2-2-3 Custody Schedule
A 2-2-3 schedule is where the child or children are with Parent A for 2 days, Parent B for 2 days, and then back to Parent A for 3 days. The next week, it switches.
A common implementation of the 2-2-3 schedule is as follows (use this language for your order):
Week 1: Parent A has the children from 8 a.m. on Monday until 8 a.m. on Wednesday; Parent B has the children from 8 a.m. on Wednesday until 8 a.m. on Friday; Parent A has the children from 8 a.m. on Friday until 8 a.m. on Monday.
Week 2: Parent B has the children from 8 a.m. on Monday until 8 a.m. on Wednesday; Parent A has the children from 8 a.m. on Wednesday until 8 a.m. on Friday; Parent B has the children from 8 a.m. on Friday until 8 a.m. on Monday.
The pros of the 2-2-3 schedule are that the children don’t go long periods of time without seeing either parent, and both parents get equal amounts of time with the children. Both parents also share in school/non-school time equally, which can lessen conflict relating to which parent gets more “free time” with the children. This is often a preferred schedule when parents share custody of an infant because the baby gets to see both parents every couple of days.
The cons of the 2-2-3 schedule are that exchanges are very frequent, and the schedule changes every week, which can create confusion for both parents and children. The schedule generally requires a heightened willingness and ability to co-parent, as it requires more contact and communication between the parents.
#3 – 2-2-5 Custody Schedule
The 2-2-5 schedule is very similar to the 2-2-3 schedule, and is sometimes referred to as a “modified 2-2-3” schedule. The best way to explain the 2-2-5 schedule is to provide an example (use this language for your order):
Parent A has the children from 8 a.m. on Monday until 8 a.m. on Wednesday, every week; Parent B has the children from 8 a.m. on Wednesday until 8 a.m. on Friday, every week; and the parents will alternate weekends, from 8 a.m. on Friday until 8 a.m. on Monday.
As shown in the example above, the only real difference between the 2-2-3 schedule and the 2-2-5 schedule is that the parents consistently have the same 2 week days each week.
Parents may choose to implement this schedule instead of a 2-2-3 because it provides more clarity to children and parents regarding where the children will be on any given day. It also allows both parents to have 5 days at a time with the children on alternating weeks, providing for more opportunity for vacations and travel without the necessity of complicating the schedule by requesting to switch days when a vacation lands on the other parent’s days.
Parents may prefer the 2-2-3 schedule in situations where the child/children are not comfortable being away from either parent for 5 days at a time.
This schedule is often utilized by parents of elementary-high school age children, as it allows both parents to participate in school activities and education, while also offering more structure, with less exchanges.
#4 – Primary School Parent – Weekend Visitation
The fourth common custody arrangement has many variations, but is essentially a schedule where one parent has the child or children Monday through Friday during the school year, and the other parent has alternating weekends or a majority of the weekends, and substantial chunks of time during school breaks.
This is a common schedule when the parents do not live particularly close together (i.e. one parent has relocated), when one parent is unable to ensure the child’s attendance at school (perhaps because of a work schedule or other conflict), or simply because the parties agreed this schedule was in the best interest of the child.
The pros of this schedule are that the children have structure during the school week, a set schedule they can understand and rely on, and a clear understanding of which parent is the primary school parent.
The cons of this schedule are that the primary school parent often feels like they do not get quality time with the child, while the other parent often feels more like a fun uncle or aunt than a parent, as all of their time with the child is free time. Children also go longer periods of time away from each parent, and parenting time sometimes gets in the way of children participating in extra-curricular activities and social events. It is not uncommon for either or both parents to seek more visitation time with the child when this schedule is in place because both parents feel like they do not get enough “quality” time with the child.
What to Consider When Making a Custody and Visitation Schedule
Custody and visitation schedules are often distinct for children of different ages, even within the same family. In addition, schedules often need to change as a child grows.
Infants and toddlers need frequent, consistent contact with their caretakers to develop secure relationships and limit anxiety. Older children are able to handle longer periods away from each parent, but need their extracurricular activities and social lives accounted for. Also, an older child’s custody preferences that may be taken into account when molding a custody arrangement.
The Details of Your Physical Custody Arrangement
The details of your physical custody arrangement should be included in your visitation schedule. The schedule should specify:
- How parents will split time with the child on weekdays;
- How parents will split time with the child on weekends;
- How parents will split time with the child during school breaks (if the child is school age);
- How parents will split time with the child on holidays and special occasions; and
- When each parent can take the child on vacation.
Your schedule should be laid out, in writing, whether it is reached by agreement outside of court or by order of the court. Refer to our free joint custody agreement template (and sole custody agreement template) for help drafting a custody agreement.