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Custody Options in a Co-Parenting Environment


Before World War II, divorced fathers almost always got custody of their children. Mothers received limited visitation rights, at best. That dynamic flipped after World War II, with the advent of the so-called “tender years” doctrine. Today, New Jersey has a co-parenting law. Presumptively, children benefit when they have consistent and meaningful contact with their fathers and their mothers.

Some parents have not kept up with the times. They hire over-aggressive “bulldog” lawyers who throw up roadblocks at every opportunity and refuse to compromise even on seemingly insignificant matters. These parents believe that’s the best way to preserve their rights, but the strategy often backfires. Many judges assume that parents who are confrontational during the case will be even more confrontational when court supervision ends. That disposition erodes co-parenting.

So, a New Jersey family law attorney must be aggressive, but an attorney must also know when to compromise. That combination is especially necessary during settlement negotiations. Because of the co-parenting law, attorneys have more flexibility to draft an agreement that satisfies this law and upholds the client’s legal rights.

Every Other Weekend/Every Other Holiday

The traditional joint custody arrangement still works well in many situations. Essentially, children spend every other weekend, every other holiday, and most of their summer vacations with the non-residential (noncustodial) parent.

This arrangement works well if the parents do not get along very well. Accommodations are available if there has been trouble in the past. Frequently, parents exchange the children at a public place, like a McDonald’s or a police station parking lot.

In terms of parenting time, this arrangement usually results in about a 65-35 split. Arguably, the co-parenting law demands a more equal distribution. But this division is certainly better than nothing. And, many attorneys add provisions like unlimited FaceTime or other electronic access.

Empty Nest

This division started in California and spread eastward. Most empty nest divisions have the same every-other-weekend arrangement. But instead of the children moving back and forth, the parents go back and forth. This division usually works very well for children. They sleep in the same bed, go to the same school, and have the same friends practically all year long.

Obviously, this arrangement only works if the parents get along rather well. They do not need to be friends, but they must do more than simply tolerate each other. Additionally, the parents must at least live in the same city, and probably in the same ZIP code.

Extended Weekend

As a general rule, the cumulative effect of small changes often has a big impact. That’s the principle behind the extended weekend co-parenting timeshare division.

Visitation weekends begin on Thursday night instead of Friday night. Then, they end on Monday instead of Sunday. Other timesharing provisions, such as midweek sleepovers, vacations, and holidays, are unaffected. This simple adjustment brings the 65-53 division much closer to 50-50. The same adjustments, like a neutral pickup and drop-off location, are available.

Block Scheduling

Alternating weekends are very difficult on both younger and older children. Young children need consistency, and older children are often involved in numerous activities. In these cases, a block schedule might be a good idea.

Children spend a week or two with Parent A, a week or two with Parent B, and the pattern repeats. For the most part, this cycle remains the same spring, summer, winter, and fall. There are usually some tweaks around Christmas and other major holidays.

Contact a Savvy Attorney

Several parenting time alternatives are available. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Somerville child custody lawyer, contact Katherine K. Wagner, Attorney at Law. After-hours and home visits are available.


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