When I was growing up, it was pretty much that one parent (usually the dad back then) would get every other weekend, and mothers would end up with the majority of parent time. The only real opportunities for the “noncustodial” parent to get more than every other weekend and a few hours on a Wednesday was during holiday breaks, which were divided equally between the parents.
But these days, parents are agreeing to, and courts are awarding, joint physical custody more often, so that both parents get to be involved in the day-to-day lives of their children. In the last five years, the legislature has enacted new laws for joint physical custody providing for shared parent time above and beyond the old school “every other weekend” schedule. Many parents these days also agree to split custody 50/50, so that they each get an equal amount of time with the kids.
There is a lot of social science research that suggests children thrive when they have predictability and consistency in their lives. Perhaps the best way we do this with a parent time schedule is with what family law attorneys call a 2-2-5-5 schedule. UPDATE April 2021: This is the default parent time schedule under the new equal custody statute that was enacted in 2021 (see Utah Code 30-3-35.2, (2021)).
You can see how this type of schedule would help children with predictability. They know that each and every week, they have exactly the same two days at each parent’s house: Monday and Tuesday are always with one parent, and Wednesday and Thursday are always with the other parent. Only the weekends are different from one week to the next, and that gives each parent the benefit of at least one weekend with the kids every two weeks.
There are also two other schedules that are commonly used by parents in 50/50 custody situations: a 3/4/4/3 schedule and a week-on-week-off schedule.
The 3-4-4-3 schedule is more popular with very young children where parents don’t want the children more than 4 days away from either parent. It has the advantage of being extremely consistent, with children knowing exactly where they will be for six days out of every week. The downside to this schedule is it practically ensures one parent will always get more weekend time, because only one day out of seven alternates. Imagine the example in Fig. 2 except with Thursday being Saturday, and you can see what I mean.
The week-on-week-off schedule has the advantage of being perfectly equal, and very fair to each parent, but as I mentioned above, is not necessarily in the best interests of the children. It can also make scheduling extra curricular activities complicated, as both parents pretty much have to both agree to take the kids to every activity or the child will miss half of them. The real benefit of this schedule is that it only requires one exchange every week, so for parents that live very far apart, say, in Ogden and Provo, it minimizes the time the kids spend in the car.
Each of these schedules is useful in certain narrow situations, but they both have issues. While Utah now has a model schedule for 50/50 custody, enacted in the 2021 legislative session (See 30-3-35.2). Utah has no presumption that custody should be split 50/50 - the new statute applies only where the Court or the parties determine that 50/50 would be in the best interests of particular children. I would note that a 50/50 schedule is not automatically in the best interests of children just because it is “fair.” Parents maintaining a 50/50 schedule should have a great deal of flexibility with each other, the ability to communicate effectively and civilly with each other, and there should be no history of domestic violence or abuse. Remember that custody schedules are not easy to change once they are in place, so there are lots of things that you should consider. Before agreeing to a custody schedule that may not serve your children’s best interests - or yours - you should consider consulting with an attorney who understands the nuances of parent time and can advise you on your specific situation. Spencer Family Law has helped countless families successfully navigate custody and parent time issues over the years, and specializes in helping families develop legal solutions that are as unique as they are.