Balancing Every-Other-Weekend Custody and Children’s Weekend Plans
Every family separated by divorce has its own special challenges to face, especially when it comes to custody. By far the most common arrangement when one parent wins sole physical custody is the every-other-weekend schedule in which children live with their non-custody parent approximately six days out of every month. This ensures that they retain a consistent relationship with both parents without shuffling the kids around too much or putting too much pressure on a parent who may not be financially or emotionally prepared to be a full-time solo parent. When parents and children work together, this can be a great way for kids to maintain a regular school schedule while still enjoying time with both parents.
However, every-other-weekend only remains balanced if the non-primary parent gets the vast majority of their 26 weekends and split holidays. Otherwise, the parent-child relationship can suffer as distance is created. Unfortunately, there are a lot of different ways that this delicate balance can be thrown off. Sometimes it is part of an ongoing custody dispute where the primary parent hides the children or refuses to send them on the scheduled weekends but sometimes it’s a simple accident of scheduling the child’s weekend plans.
When Weekend Plans Collide
The every-other-weekend arrangement tends to assume that children would normally spend 100% of their weekends at home and only the home they are in is considered. However, modern children over the age of 5 usually have a combination of friends and extracurricular activities that may or may not take up an entire weekend. Sleepovers, scout camping trips, summer camp, and church or school events can all cut into precious time with their second parent and while it’s a good policy to be cool about your child’s activities outside the family structure, there comes a point when separation is a major risk.
This is an especially big concern for parents of teenagers who often prefer to spend more time with their friends on the weekends than with family. Though even social or very active younger children can become the focus of an unspoken custody problem. The question is what to do when your child’s weekend plans seem to consistently block out your few scheduled weekends to spend time with them.
Coincidence or Conspiracy?
The first few times your child’s plans are scheduled over your weekend, you likely decided to breathe through it. Maybe you even take over picking them up and dropping them off to catch a few hours on either side of their weekend events and you’re happy to see them socializing and getting involved with new activities. But if it starts to seem like your child is always scheduled to go somewhere else on your weekends, it’s time to take an assessment. If it’s a coincidence, you’ll need to take steps to regain your vital parental bonding time. If it’s a conspiracy, you may need to take legal action.
Fixing a Scheduling Coincidence
Some extracurricular activities are also scheduled for every-other weekends without apparent realization at the havoc this can wreak on divorced families. Scouts, choir, pottery class, whatever it is, your child may have accidentally gotten involved in a conflicting activity. If they love the activity, either get involved in it or talk to your spouse about sharing the weekends that the child is available so you still get one or two weekends a month just to hang out or go to the park together. It’s also possible that your child may be visiting a friend who is only available when they are with one of their divorced parents, incidentally triggering a conflict with your every-other weekend. If this is the case, consider offering to host their social time in your home instead of the other child’s.
Remedying Conspiracy to Separate
Never jump to the assumption that a scheduling conflict is conspiracy, but keep an open mind if you and your spouse are still having trouble or if your child is showing emotional problems related to visitation. In some divorces, it is possible that your spouse is purposefully scheduling your child for whole-weekend activities on your weekends out of either vindictiveness or paranoia. This can generally be determined simply by talking to your spouse. If they refuse to reschedule either the activities or your visitation or if your child is evasive about the issue, consider mediation or legal counsel to change your visitation schedule or enact enforcement to gain your rightful parenting time.
Only with regular visitation will you be able to maintain or mend your parental relationship with your child. If your child’s weekend plans are consistently keeping you from seeing them on your every-other-weekend schedule, don’t let the relationship slip away. Seek a new schedule or legal action, whichever is most appropriate.