Determining child custody and creating a visitation schedule that is beneficial to the children and parents is one of the most challenging aspects of the divorce process. To help you understand what you can expect during your custody case and learn more about the process, our family law attorneys in Raleigh are sharing some insight into the North Carolina standard visitation schedules.
Understanding Child Custody and Visitation
The term visitation and custody are often used interchangeably regarding Raleigh Child Custody law. Typically, child custody can refer to both legal and physical custody. Legal custody is when a parent can make decisions related to a child's health care, education, and general welfare and wellbeing. Barring issues such as a history of abuse, drug and alcohol use, or other serious issues, most parents will share legal custody.
Physical custody refers to the parent with whom a child lives. When one parent has sole physical custody, it means the child lives with the custodial parent and the other parent (non-custodial) has visitation rights. Visitation typically refers to the custodial schedule of the parent that does not have primary physical custody of the children.
If parents have joint physical custody, they share time as close to evenly as possible. It may not be an exact 50-50 division, but it will be close.
Establishing a Schedule of Physical Custody
Regardless of whether your are the primary custodian or share joint physical custody, you must implement the custodial schedule. There are several types of a North Carolina standard visitation schedules that may be enacted, and the needs of the children are the number one priority in setting them. It's important that any issues that may come up, such as holidays, vacations, and time with grandparents should be specifically addressed in your Agreement or Consent Order so there are no disputes between you and the other party going forward.
A detailed custodial schedule will minimize conflict between the parties and give the children the stability and harmony that they deserve. While the parties can agree to any type of arrangement, it is important that there is a “fall back plan” in your Agreement or Order when you cannot agree. An Agreement or Order that only states “the parties will agree.....” is not helpful if there is no way to reach a conclusion when reaching an agreement is not possible.
Sharing Holiday and Vacation Visitation Schedules
Another aspect with regard to your child custody calendar is how to share holidays and schedule vacations.
Parties usually either split the actual holiday or alternate the holidays/school breaks on an alternating basis.
One common way of splitting a holiday is that the mother would have Christmas Eve at 6 pm until Christmas Day at noon, when Father has the children from that point until 6:00 p.m. on December 26 during even years and the schedule is reversed in odd years. This is best when parents don't intend to travel long distances to visit family or friends.
Alternating the entire holiday/school break would be, as an example, the mother would have the children when school ends for Christmas break until the children return to school at the end of school break during even years and father would have this same custodial time during the Christmas break with the children during odd years. Often, this is chosen when travel is a factor.
Having a detailed, comprehensive visitation schedule not only allows for holidays and vacations, it allows for issues like birthdays and specific occasions that may be important in your family. Ensuring for these in your custody agreement or consent order will minimize problems in the future, particularly if one or both party's remarry or experience a life change that may impact those wishes.
Sample Raleigh Custodial Schedules
To help you get a better idea of what you can expect in a custody calendar, we're outlining some common examples. It's important to note that these are not the only options and what may work for your family may be something different.
For informational purposes, we have set forth the most common arrangements with F = father and M= mother for ease of illustration only:
Non-Primary Parent – Every Other Weekend
* Schedules such as these sometime provide for the father to have dinner nights in the middle of the week every week or every other week. Another scenario is for father to have an overnight custodial visit in the middle of the week when he does not have weekend custodial time.
# Typically the transition time is Sundays at 6:00 p.m. if the mother transports the children to school, or it can be considered another overnight for the father and he return the children to school on Monday morning as an example.
Pros: This schedule provides for minimal transition; in some cases it is better for the children to be with one parent more if there are parenting concerns or distance/work schedules result in this being the best arrangement for a particular family.
Cons: This type of limited custody schedule is not as common as it once was. Unless there are significant issues making more time with each parent impractical, this type of custodial schedule is not strongly favored by the Court.
Equal Custody Schedule – One Week On / One Week Off
Pros: This schedule provides for minimal transition, with each party having a longer uninterrupted period of time with their children.
Cons: While having your children with you for an entire week so sounds great, the next week without them can be difficult. It can also impact the children’s day to day routine, such as if one parent is better at seeing that homework is done on time and done well. It can affect school performance for those weeks the children are with the parent who may not excel in that area.
Equal Custody Schedule – 2-2-5
Pros: the timeframe is shorter with regard to not seeing your children compared to the week on/week off schedule, and you have consistent weeknights with your children. When children are active in certain extracurricular activities that you are involved with them, this can be an ideal schedule.
Cons: there are more transitions compared the week on/week off schedule and there are times when you will not see your children for a five day period.
Equal Custody Schedule – 2-2-3
Pros: the timeframe is shorter with regard to not seeing your children compared to the week on/week off schedule and 2-2-5 schedule. This schedule provides for the most frequent contact with your children when sharing joint physical custody in Raleigh.
Cons: there are more transitions compared the week on/week off schedule and the 2-2-5 schedule and the weeknight custodial periods will change each week.
Choosing a Custody Schedule for Your Family
Here are some factors to consider when determining a visitation schedule:
- How far apart do you live from the opposing party? Does the distance make frequent transitions not practical? For example, would Dad have to get the children up at 5:00 am if he lives in Raleigh to take the children to their school in Wake Forest?
- How old are the children? Because very young children (infant to 3 years old) are still developing their long term and short term memory as well as building their bond with each parent, a week on/week off schedule may be too long for such a young child to go without seeing one parent. As children get older, this is less of a problem.
- What kind of activities are your children involved in? If they have several activities during the week, does your schedule selected provide that they can continue in these activities without interruption or time spent traveling to either parties home that results in their getting home very late (refer back to the example of Dad living in Raleigh with children attending school in Wake Forest.)
- Does your work schedule or the opposing party’s work schedule make any of the arrangements unworkable? Parties who work 12-hour shifts, rotating shifts, or work 2nd or 3rd shift, may need a more tailored schedule to suit the family’s needs.
- Parenting skills. Do you have an opposing party who is not capable of ensuring the children’s homework is done or does not see to their hygiene as they should? A schedule where the children are with them for longer periods of time, such as a week on/ week off or 2-2-5 schedule, may not be practical.
Raleigh Custodial Transition Arrangements
In addition to the schedule itself, having a transition arrangement should be a part of the custody agreement or order. Consider if there are safety issues or if there is a long distance between the two homes. Even chronic lateness from one party should be factored in. Common options include:
- Meeting at a public spot, like a local McDonald's, is wise for both issues of safety and habitual late arrivals. You can purchase a drink and obtain a date stamped receipt of when you arrived at the custodial transition area. Most McDonald’s have play areas for children, and being in a public area, you have potential witnesses in the event of a safety issue arising.
- If you feel that a public place, such as a restaurant is not enough to ensure your safety, you can use your local police station as a transition place. This minimizes the likelihood of a safety issue and if something should happen, law enforcement is there to intervene.
- You can pick up and drop off at each party’s house, but include in the agreement who will be required to provide transportation, whether it's one person doing pick up and drop off or divided transportation. If it's not in the order or agreement, there's no way to finalize the issue in the event one person doesn't cooperate.
Schedule a Consultation to Discuss Visitation and Custody Arrangements
We understand that it's hard to choose the right custody and visitation schedule for your child, but it is important to take into consideration your children’s individual needs, family customs and make specific arrangements that will keep your children safe while promoting their relationship with each of you.
If you need assistance from an experienced Raleigh child custody attorney for your case, we would be happy speak with you and work with you to ensure your custodial rights are protected. To learn more about visitation schedules in divorce cases and to discuss your options, call (919) 301-8843 or complete the form below, and one of our divorce attorneys will contact you shortly.