By Robert M. Going, Jr, Attorney
When a couple divorces and has children under the age of 18, it’s time to establish a custody agreement. A custody agreement is a written document that maps out custody schedules and resolves any child custody and visitation issues. Some couples can negotiate this agreement themselves. Others require the help of a qualified family law attorney. To make an agreement legally binding in Pennsylvania, a judge reviews and approves the agreement to ensure it is in the child’s best interests. If a couple finds they can’t agree on custody terms, a judge will make the decision.
Although agreements can vary, a standard custody agreement will cover some fundamental issues, including:
- Provisions for physical custody, meaning where the child will live.
- Provisions for legal custody, meaning who will make important decisions about the child’s welfare and upbringing.
- A child visitation schedule that parents are legally obligated to follow. It will establish a routine for how the child will spend time with each parent.
- Provisions for how the parents will handle essential decisions in the child’s life.
- Rules for the care and custody of the child.
- A clause on how parents can make changes to the custody agreement, should the need arise.
When establishing a schedule for custody and visitation, Lancaster County parents have some flexibility to create an arrangement that best fits their child’s needs and circumstances. We’ve listed some typical custody schedules below.
50/50 Custody and Visitation Schedules
A 50/50 schedule divides child care equally and allows both parents to care for the child. Splitting custody into two equal parts allows a child the time needed to develop a close relationship with both parents. However, there are several variations of the 50/50 schedule. Here are six common examples:
In this 50/50 residential custody schedule, the child spends one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent. This arrangement allows parents to spend equal periods with the child and requires fewer handoffs. However, it also requires both parents to live reasonably close to one another and the child’s school. Additionally, some parents or children may struggle with being apart for a week at a time.
Two Weeks Each
In this arrangement, a child spends two weeks with one parent, then two weeks with the other parent. This child custody arrangement provides a more stable living environment with fewer exchanges. It is often a desirable arrangement if the parents live farther apart or if the child is not yet in school. Again, parents and children may struggle with two-week separations.
Alternating Every Two Days
In this residential custody schedule, the child lives with one parent for two days and with the other for two days. It’s also called the “two days on, two days off” agreement. In this agreement, there are more handoffs, but each parent sees the child frequently. This is a popular agreement for families with younger children. However, it’s not always practical if parents live far apart. Frequent switching can also be disruptive for older children in school and who participate in school activities.
The 3-4-4-3 Custody Schedule
This 50/50 arrangement allows the child to spend three days of the week with one parent and four days with the other parent. The first parent has the child for four days in the following week, and the other parent has the child for three. This child custody arrangement assigns each parent to have the child the same days every week except one. Because the days are set, one parent may have the child every weekend, and it can be challenging to work around a child’s school activities.
The 2-2-5-5 Schedule
As the name implies, in this agreement, a child lives two days with one parent and then two days with the other parent. Next, they spend five days with the first parent and then five days with the second parent. This child custody schedule allows the child to spend time with both parents each week and avoids having children only on certain days of the week. Parents often prefer it with non-traditional work schedules and children who are not yet school age. Again, there are frequent exchanges, and school-age children may encounter conflicts.
The 2-2-3 Schedule
In this 50/50 residential child custody schedule, the child lives two days with one parent, the next two days with the other parent, then three days with the first parent. The schedule then switches in the following week, allowing a child to spend time with both parents each week. As with many other agreements, school-age children may find the switches conflict with school activities.
Types of 60/40 Custody and Visitation Schedules
It makes sense for one parent to spend a little more time with the child in some cases. In a 60/40 schedule, the child spends 60 percent of the time with one parent and 40 percent with the other. There are fewer exchanges and some other benefits for parents with older children. Here are some common types of 60/40 custody schedules:
Every Extended Weekend
In this custody arrangement, the child spends weekdays with one parent and a long weekend with the other parent. If a child struggles with change, this custody arrangement offers consistency. This arrangement also works well with childcare and school calendars and does not require parents to live close to one another. Because a child spends time with a different parent every weekend, the structure may be a complicated fit for some work schedules.
The 4-3 Schedule
In this agreement, the child spends four days a week with one parent and then three days with the other. This custody arrangement provides structure and allows both parents to take part in the child’s daily care each week. However, it requires frequent exchanges and does not work well if parents live far from each other.
Types of 70/30 Custody and Visitation Schedules
As the name implies, a 70/30 custody schedule allows one parent custody 70 percent of the time, and the other parent has custody 30 percent of the time. This can be a good arrangement for children who do better with one home base or parents who live far apart. Here are some examples of how the 70/30 custody agreement can work:
Every Weekend Custody Schedule
In this type of residential custody schedule, a child spends weekdays with one parent and weekends with the other. It has the benefit of consistent structure, routine, and fewer exchanges. However, one parent has the child every weekend and misses out on the weekday/school routine. The 70-percent custody parent may miss the weekend with the child. That’s why this agreement is often modified to allow a parent to have two out of every three weekends.
The 5-2 Arrangement
The 5-2 agreement tackles the problem of weekdays vs. weekends. The child lives five days with one parent and then two days with the other. This arrangement may start on any day of the week, allowing it to work well with a range of work schedules. The child is also able to spend time with both parents during the week. However, mid-week exchanges require parents to live close by and communicate about school activities.
Every Third Day Custody
This child custody arrangement is often a good fit for parents with young children. It allows both parents to spend time with the child on weekdays and weekends and ensures that the child will not go long periods without seeing either parent. The child lives with one parent for two days and the other parent for one day.
Every Third Week Custody
This residential custody schedule allows a child to spend two weeks with one parent and then one week with the other parent. The more extended custody period reduces the number of exchanges and can allow both parents to be involved in the child’s weekday activities. However, it does require parents and children to spend extended periods away from one another.
Types of 80/20 Custody and Visitation Schedules
One parent has been the primary caregiver in some families, and the other works long hours or travels for work. In other cases, the child prefers to spend more time with one parent. There are many ways an 80/20 agreement can work:
Alternating Weekend Custody
In this arrangement, the child lives with one parent and visits the other parent every other weekend. In this scenario, there are few exchanges, and the child will have one primary residence. For some children, being away from one parent for so long is difficult. Some parents may miss being involved in the child’s day-to-day school activities. In some agreements, mid-week visits can be added each week or every other week.
First, Third, and Fifth Weekend Schedule or Second, Fourth, and Fifth Weekend Schedule
In this agreement, the child lives with one parent and spends certain weekends each month with the other. Because there are fewer exchanges, this regimented schedule often works well in high-conflict situations. In some cases, weekend visits are extended. This arrangement may work well for parents who live a long distance from one another.
Every Third Weekend Custody
This 80/20 residential custody schedule enables a child to live with one parent and visit the other parent every third weekend. It may be the right choice for children who need a lot of consistency and do better in a single home. It also works for parents who live far apart. In this arrangement, one parent has substantially less time with the child, which may be difficult for both the child and the parent.
Long-Distance and Out of State
Some families have parents that live very far apart. In these situations, the child will live with one parent in a long-distance custody schedule and visit the other as schedules permit. This customized agreement may factor in school calendars, distance, and cost of travel. In some cases, a child might see the noncustodial parent for extended periods. Parents might split or alternate holidays. Long-distance custody should include instructions on who will arrange and pay for travel and include a schedule for regular phone and video calls.
A Summer Break Schedule
In families with school-age children, the custody agreement can change during summer breaks. Depending on the existing child custody schedule, changes could include giving one parent weeks or even months of custody during the summer break or choosing a different residential custody option. Some families keep the custody arrangement in place but schedule vacation time with both parents. If parents change their custody arrangement for the summer, they should be precise about the dates when the summer schedule will start and end.
Third-Party Time in the Custody Schedule
Custody agreements sometimes factor in third party time or when a child is not with a parent. For example, a parent with a child in school or daycare may spend less time with them each day than the parent who cares for them during a weekend. For instance, a 70/30 every weekend arrangement may seem unbalanced to the weekend parent. However, it may be closer to 60/40 when daycare or school hours are subtracted.
Creating the Best Custody Agreement
In any situation, creating a custody agreement that suits the child and satisfies all parties can be challenging. The Law Offices of Going and Plank in downtown Lancaster can help, whether your custody case requires simple mediation or more aggressive litigation.
Want more info on child custody in Lancaster and Pennsylvania? Check out these articles.
Tips to Make Custody Easier on the Children
6 Tips to Get a Better Custody Agreement