I have learned that every divorce and custody agreement is unique. While there may be some catch phrases and “traditional” ways of describing whether you have sole physical custody or joint physical custody or you have written agreements for your “parenting time”–each family situation is unique and some are able to bend and flex a little more than others.
Many people find that they don’t and can’t be very flexible at all when it comes to custody and parenting arrangements. I am all for working out all the details as minutely as possible and getting a signed, guiding, legal document to help divorced parents negotiate the new family arrangements, but some families are able to allow for more flexibility while others need to keep to a rigid and strict schedule. You should definitely take both parents’ personalities and histories into account when drawing up any sort of agreement. Trying to force a more irresponsible parent to keep to a rigid, strict, detailed and complicated schedule could be setting you both up (and, especially the child) for failure.
This doesn’t mean that you have to just let everyone do whatever they want. I’ve found in my situation that we started out with a much more rigid parenting and custody agreement immediately after the divorce. The kids were much younger and it was imperative that we keep closer tabs on them and they needed to be taken to and picked up from each house. Now that my children are older teenagers, our arrangements have changed a few times over the years and there is a great deal more flexibility. It helps that both of their parents live in the same town and it is an easy bus ride back and forth. Other families may find it will always take close coordination to make sure everyone is safe and fair. We’ve also had some flexing in terms of holidays. I’ve found that holidays and birthdays can be really sticky places for many divorced parents and families. We started out with a set alternating agreement, but have become looser as the years have passed. Partially due to the fact that as the kids get older, they want to have more of a say in what their holiday and birthday plans are.
I think that flexible or set, it is important to make sure you have things written down, periodically revisit any agreements to see if they are still working, and keep the best interest of the child or children as the chief consideration.