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Let's split the kids in half!

In child custody cases, many parents go in thinking their goal is to get joint physical custody of their children with each parent getting equal time with the children. They believe that 50-50 parenting time is fair - split the kids in half (figuratively, not literally, of course). Half of the kids' time spent at their mother's house, the other half spent at their father's. Seems fair enough, right?

In reality, joint custody and a 50-50 split may not be what is best, or appropriate, for the kids. What seems fair on the surface may not in fact be a workable or practical solution - and it may also put additional strain on the children and the family dynamic.

Whose week is it again?

Let's take a look at some theoretical 50-50 splits. With seven days in a week, the children could spend three-and-a-half days at mom's and the other three-and-a-half days at dad's. If the parents get along well with each other, live near each other and are in the same school district, this may be doable, but transportation, school bussing, kids' sporting events and parent's work schedules can all complicate an attempt to split a week between homes.

Alternating weeks with each parent is also an option for some families. Although this schedule might provide a more stable environment for the children, it may not be desirable for a child to go a full week without seeing the other parent. Other 50-50 options include a two-weeks with each parent schedule, a 3-4-4-3 day schedule, a 2-2-5-5 day schedule or a 2-2-3-3-2-2 day schedule. These schedules result in many or frequent transitions between homes, and they can require a lot of logistical coordination and parental cooperation - which may be feasible in a low conflict divorce, but unrealistic in a high conflict divorce.

Equal split, or 50-50 arrangements work best where:

  • The parents live near each other
  • The parents can amicably communicate about the children
  • The parents cooperate with each other
  • The children can adapt to going back-and-forth between houses
  • The children's needs are put first

Focus on the children, not the pie

While 50-50 may seem like a good idea at first blush, it can turn into a real hassle down the road for several reasons:

  • In Minnesota, child custody, parenting time and child support are interrelated - and because of this, some parents try to leverage custody and parenting time to lower the amount of child support they would otherwise be obligated to pay.
  • When a 50-50 physical custody split is proposed, it may be a sign that a parent is thinking more about getting his or her half of the pie than they are about the children's best interests, especially if there is high conflict between the parents.
  • A 50-50 split of parental duties and responsibilities can be very difficult to maintain over time.
  • Geography can get in the way - from commute times to the chance that at least one of the parents will eventually move to a new location.
  • The children's needs will likely change over time.
  • The initial idea for a 50-50 split was the result of a poor compromise.
  • Equal parental influence can lead to contradictory experiences for the children.

In any child custody dispute, it is important to remain focused on the needs of the children - not on the time split or a categorical label. If parents are able to cooperate, communicate and compromise with one another, a joint custody and 50/50 schedule can work wonderfully.  In every case, the children should come first when deciding custody and visitation issues - get the best plan in place for the kids, and then let the rest fall where it may.

Is a 50-50 schedule right for you and your family, or would your children be better served by a 60-40 or 70-30 schedule? Do you know others who have had success (or failure) with an equal split? Let us know what you think below.

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