Last Updated: November 2, 2022
When some couples get divorced, they share custody (either decision making and/or parenting time) of their children. In other situations, one parent is awarded primary custody and the other is granted visitation rights. Exactly how much child visitation should a parent expect to receive? The answer is not cut and dry because it depends on the family situation and dynamics. A normal visitation schedule could be a number of different scenarios.
- What Determines a Normal Visitation Schedule?
- Examples of a Normal Visitation Schedule
- Next Steps
What Determines a Normal Visitation Schedule?
Visitation schedules are highly dependent on a number of different factors. The first, is whether the parents agree or are fighting. When the parents fight, the visitation schedule (normally called a ‘parenting plan’, ‘custody judgment’, or “allocation judgment’) will be determined by the judge. This usually happens after a long (1-2 years) court battle.
Normal Visitation Schedule – ‘Custody Fight’
When the parents don’t get along, a visitation schedule will be determined by the judge. Because this process involves kids, the judge will need extensive testimony, records from school, and likely the recommendation of a child representative (or guardian ad litem). A child representative is a separate attorney that the court appoints to represent the child’s best interests (this is the standard that every state uses for determining custody and parenting time. The judge will ask the child representative to provide a report that takes place after interviewing and meeting with both parents, the kids, teachers, counselors, and other family members.
Best Interests of the Child = Custody
Child custody decisions can be very difficult, but they all boil down to what is best for the child. This requires delving into the pre-divorce standard of living and considering parental work obligations in light of the schedule of the child. Most courts hesitate to award one parent sole custody if it can be avoided. Doing so would limit the involvement of the other parent in the life of the child. If one parent is granted sole custody, the other parent typically shares legal custody for decision-making and receives ample visitation rights. This ensures that the non-custodial parent still receives a say in important life decisions affecting the child, but the parent with sole custody basically has the tie breaking vote if the parents have a disagreement.
Laws Don’t Specify a Normal Amount of Parenting Time
Since there is no “normal” amount of visitation, lawyers, mediators, and courts rely on parents for suggestions. Some parents know that they cannot juggle a full-time job and full-time childcare, while others are able to manage this with help from a babysitter, nanny, or extended family. Each parent proposes a desired amount of visitation, and the decision-makers review it to determine feasibility. In the best-case scenario, both parents receive the amount of visitation they request.
Examples of a Normal Visitation Schedule
Whether parents agree or get themselves into a battle over a parenting time schedule, there are a few scenarios that are typical for the parties to agree to follow or are ordered to follow. This is all individual case dependent, so it completely depends on each parents (and the kids) individual living situation.
Equal Parenting Time
In the best of situations, the parents equally share parenting time. This is not the most common type of parenting schedule, but probably takes place close to 25% of the time. An equal parenting schedule might be a variety of different scenarios such as:
- This is where each parent essentially has an uninterrupted week with the kids, and likely exchange on Sunday evenings or drop off at school on Monday mornings. This is a normal visitation schedule when 50/50 parenting time is entered by the court because it doesn’t involve the switching of houses for the child during the school week.
3-4-4-3 Parenting Schedule
- This is where the parents alternate who has the kids by exchanging them more often than every 7-days. Dad has the first 3-overnights, followed by mom having the next 4-overnights, and then dad has the next 4-overnights, and mom has the next 3. Then, repeat. This is a pretty normal visitation schedule for 50/50 custody.
- This results in a 50/50 and also gives each parent an equal number of weekdays/weekends while also allowing the chance for each parent to see the kids more frequently and not be away from them for a whole week.
2-2-5-5 Parenting Schedule
- This is similar to the above 3-4-4-3 schedule only broken down differently. This still results in a 50/50 parenting schedule.
Unequal Parenting Time
The majority of parenting schedules that take place are not equal (50/50). For most people, one parent has the majority of parenting time and the other parent has more limited visitation. A normal visitation schedule in this instance might look more like one of these scenarios:
Every Other Weekend
- By far the most typical parenting schedule is where one parent has the majority of the parenting time and the other parent has visitation every other weekend. This might be Friday night through Sunday night, or Friday night thru Monday morning.
Every Other Weekend Plus
- This is the same schedule as above, except in the middle of each week, maybe Wednesday nights, the parent with visitation gets dinner or overnight time once each week. The reason for adding this into every other weekend schedule is to make sure a parent doesn’t see their kids for too long of a period of time.
3-Weekends Per Month
- This allows the parent with less than 50% of the parenting time to have more weekend parenting time. This is a normal visitation schedule for parents that have different types of work schedules, like weekends where one parent is off and the other parent works.
If a parent is trying to get one of the normal visitation schedules here entered by a judge but the parents are going to fight, use of a child custody lawyer is usually the best place to start. The good news is that practically every child custody lawyer offers free consultations, so getting an expert opinion is pretty simple and straightforward. Whichever route is chosen, the best thing any parent can do to ensure a normal visitation schedule gets entered by the court is to make sure they have their lives in order. Get stable, have a clean home with bedrooms for the kids, and do all you can to live near the school and have a job that doesn’t require late nights or weekend work.