By Angela Foy
Attorney, Cordell & Cordell, P.C.
Often readers will ask about the logistics of sharing child custody and parenting time when they work unusual hours or work periods. For instance, the security guard who has to work nights or the offshore driller who works two full weeks then receives two full weeks off.
Obviously an every other weekend or Monday-Wednesday-Friday parenting schedule will not work for those situations. So what do people who work these abnormal schedules do to get time with their children?
When a court sets a parenting schedule in a custody and placement order, it is typically required to set a schedule that allows the children to have regularly occurring, meaningful periods of physical placement with each parent that maximizes the amount of time the child may spend with each parent. Generally, while maximizing time with each parent does not require equal time with each parent, if the court finds that an equal placement arrangement is appropriate in your case, it can order that schedule in many different ways.
The type of schedule that is appropriate depends on many factors, and often the age of the children is a starting point. Psychologists generally agree that older children can handle being separated from one parent for longer periods of time. For example, take the offshore worker who may work 14 days on, 14 days off. It may be appropriate for him to have a two-week rotating schedule: two weeks with him and then two weeks with their mother, but not if his children are very young. I have also seen courts order the two weeks, with an overnight in-between awarded to the other parent, if that parent is available. In that case, their mother would have placement on the Saturday in between his two weeks of placement.
Parents that are able to work cooperatively to schedule placement have also requested in a stipulation an order that is very flexible. They agree to set the schedule themselves under the guidelines that each parent will have approximately the same number of overnights each month, or even for the year over all. In those situations, the parents plan a new schedule every few months based on each other’s work schedule.
Whether the order is the result of trial or stipulation, the paramount concern is what is best for the children. If an equal schedule between the parents is best for the children, then if can be ordered in a way that works for you and meets their needs. If two weeks at a time or an alternative arrangement is not in your children’s best interests, then it will not be ordered. However, even if equal placement is not a possibility, shared placement may still be appropriate. If you have each weekend you are not working, and then a two-week alternating schedule over the summer, you still have approximately one-third of the placement time. This may be expanded if you have additional vacation time as well.
The schedule that is best for your case depends on many factors and the specific rules in your jurisdiction. You should discuss your case with a domestic litigation attorney in your jurisdiction.
Angela Foy is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisc., office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. where her primary practice is exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Foy is licensed to practice in the state of Wisconsin, the U.S. District Court, and the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Ms. Foy received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Notre Dame. She then continued on to receive her Juris Doctor from Marquette University.