Shared Custody During Kindergarten

Deciding what custody schedule will be best when a child starts school can be a challenge. Here are some factors to consider.

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

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Lindsay Estes January 10, 2013 at 09:59 PM
What about for parents that live 1-hour from each other?
Virginia Colin January 11, 2013 at 04:24 AM
For parents who live an hour apart from each other, I would ask what their child's prior experience has been. Has the child spent lots of time in each parent’s home, with maybe a 50/50 or 60/40 time-sharing arrangement during the preschool years? Does the child already have friends in both neighborhoods? Does the child seem secure and relaxed with each parent and in each neighborhood? If so, it might not be crazy to do half of kindergarten in one school and half in the school in the other parent’s neighborhood. (In higher grades, that would be more problematic; it could cause a bigger disruption in the flow of the curriculum.) For many kids, though, having just one school for the whole school year would make more sense, even if it reduces time with one of the parents somewhat. More to come...
Virginia Colin January 11, 2013 at 04:25 AM
1/10/13 reply, part 2: I would also check whether one parent values time with the child so much that he or she is willing to get up early to drive the child to school in the other parent’s neighborhood. Can the child get up that early and still stay healthy and be alert during school time? If one school is significantly better than the other, the parents might base their plans on that. The school year has a lot of vacation days, teacher work days, half days, and other opportunities for the child to spend time with the parent who lives an hour away from the home in the child’s school district, if that parent’s schedule has enough flexibility. The parent who lives outside the child’s school district can also help with field trips and in-school activities if his or her work schedule permits. In any particular family’s situation, there could be other factors, such as siblings and after-school arrangements, that influence decisions about what sharing custody during kindergarten. Working with a certified, professional Family Mediator, each pair of parents has a good chance of developing a plan that will be good for their child.


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