Child custody and timeshare with the children sometimes get muddled up in the minds of divorcing individuals and over-simplified into “I want 50-50.” There can however by 50-50 problems. Legally (and practically) there are three distinct things: legal custody, physical custody and the parenting plan timeshare arrangement. The timeshare arrangement is nearly always what is most important because it reflects the actual time each parent will have with the children.
An unlimited number of timeshare arrangements (and percentages) are possible. The most widely discussed timeshare percentage is 50-50. There are many ways to accomplish a 50-50 timeshare.
Potential 50-50 Problems
While equal timeshare arrangements with the children may seem desirable to one or both parents, there are often 50-50 problems. Here are some reasons why:
- Often one of the parents wants the 50-50 arrangement because they feel it should be their right to have half of the time with the children. They are motivated by their own self-interest rather than what is practical or best for the children.
- The desire for 50-50 is sometimes motivated by the aim of reducing child support. It is true that the greater the timeshare percentage of the paying parent, the less will be their guideline child support. But here also the parent is motivated by self-interest rather than what is practical or best for the children.
- Sometimes a 50-50 timeshare represents a compromise between the parents because they are unable to agree to anything else. Problematic practical realities will likely arise when the compromise is implemented.
- 50-50 arrangements often involve a lot of exchanges of the children. This may be relatively easy if the parents live close to each other, as is often the case when they are first splitting up. If one parent moves further away, it can be hard to keep up the 50-50 schedule.
- A 50-50 timeshare often implies a 50-50 split of parental duties with the children. The parents however will have different parenting skills and interests. Ignoring these in favor of a 50-50 schedule can create frustration for both parents.
- 50-50 arrangements require a lot of work by both parents. If either parent has a full-time job, their life will be very full and perhaps overwhelming. Opportunities for efficiencies such as having one parent focus on the children’s homework and the other on their extracurricular activities can be lost.
- A lot of cooperation is required between parents to make a 50-50 timeshare work. Each parent needs to be reasonably well-organized, meet their commitments and communicate effectively with the other parent. If this is lacking, 50-50 problems will develop.
- In a 50-50 arrangement, each parent has equal time and authority to discipline, influence and teach the children. This means that each parent has an equal opportunity to create very different, perhaps even contradictory, experiences for the children. That can be confusing for them and even emotionally harmful.
- The needs of the children (and the parents) will change with time. 50-50 timeshares imply a certain rigidity – that the time with each parent must be kept exactly balanced. This can constrain flexibility in meeting the real and changing needs of all concerned.
This is not to say that 50-50 problems are insurmountable nor that arrangements are inherently unworkable. Some parents can make them work very well. But before entering into such a timeshare, it’s wise to think through in detail how the arrangement will work in practice and carefully consider the 50-50 problems and challenges it may create. And as always, what will be best for the children should be the paramount consideration.