A while ago a parent asked me what kind of custody arrangement was likely to work best for a child starting kindergarten. She also asked what type of person would be able to advise the parents about how custody schedules affect a child's study habits and overall school life. A mediator? A school guidance counselor? A teacher?
My answer was, it depends.
If it were my child, I would ask the school guidance counselor first. If you know which teacher your child will have, it would make sense to ask his or her opinion. What kindergarten is like differs SO much from one school to another, and sometimes from one class to another within a school, it is difficult for a mediator to know whether any particular kindergarten will include any conditions that would make any given custody arrangement unsuitable.
Most kids are pretty resilient. They can do fine living one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent. They can do fine living mostly with one parent and staying with the other every other weekend and maybe one night in the middle of the week.
There should not be much homework to worry about in kindergarten. Kindergarten kids shouldn't have to study. The teacher may want them to look at books or practice printing or cut out magazine pictures, but there aren't likely to be any big complicated assignments.
When kids are older and school is more demanding, some kids still do fine living in two homes, and others need more stability. Some keep leaving books, shoes, papers, etc. at the wrong house, and they have trouble completing homework and turning it in on time if they have more than one home base on school nights (i.e., the night before a school day).
In kindergarten, if both parents are reasonably competent parents, there may be no need to worry about having the child wake up in the same place with the same parent every school morning. Either parent can do a fine job getting him on his way to school in appropriate clothing with a nutritious lunch and whatever supplies he needs for the day. The child has clothes at both houses, and all the school supplies travel in the child's backpack.
Where each parent lives and what their work schedules are like could also be major factors when planning the custody schedule.
Most 5- and 6- year olds do best with (a) a regular bedtime, (b) a predictable schedule -- any reasonable schedule, as long as the child can know in advance which day she goes where, and (c) protection from exposure to hostilities and tensions between the parents.
What matters most in deciding a custody schedule is what will be best for the child.
Virginia L. Colin, Ph.D.
Colin Family Mediation