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Minnesota, like other states, operates on the premise that it is in a child's best interests to have regular, frequent, and meaningful contact with both parents. While it's difficult to argue with this premise, the way parents and courts go about putting it into practice can have unintended consequences for children.
Minnesota law specifically states that there is no presumption for or against joint physical custody, except when domestic abuse has occurred between the parents. Joint physical custody could serve the interest of ensuring that a child has regular and frequent contact with both parents. However, attempts to equally divide children's time with each parent should be undertaken carefully.
One common arrangement in Minnesota is called "2/2/5/5," after the configuration of days a child spends with each parent. Typically in a 2/2/5/5, the child spends Monday and Tuesday with one parent, Wednesday and Thursday with the other, alternating weekends from Friday through Monday morning. The cycle keeps repeating, so that over time, each parent gets equal time with the child. There is consistency because the child knows where he or she will be on each weekday. What could be more fair?
In theory, nothing. Parenting time is divided right down the middle. The child never goes more than five days without seeing both parents. And for some families and children, 2/2/5/5 can be a viable solution. It may work well, for example, with older kids or kids with more resilient personalities. Those children may be less thrown by change, energized by the change of environment, and excited to see each parent often.
However, for many children, moving back and forth between parents' homes every couple of days can be anxiety-provoking, not energizing. Most very young children depend on routine and dislike disruption. Other children who may struggle with rapid switches back and forth include children on the autism spectrum and those who tend to be anxious, but a child need not have a diagnosis for this arrangement to work poorly for him or her.
Some experts suggest that it takes children two days to adjust to being in a new environment. When a child's environment changes every two days, that means some children never really get used to being in one place before they have to switch to the other. In truth, many adults would find this daunting; imagine how difficult it is for a child with absolutely no control over the situation!
One thing that is helpful to many children is having visual help regarding parenting time schedules. Consider having a calendar in each house with the child's days with both mom and dad color-coded. Consistency and having familiar items around helps, too. You may want to buy duplicates of certain items for your child's room in each home. For items that can't be duplicated, like a "lovey" or comfort item, pack a "go bag" that travels with your child from home to home.
Some experts recommend having the parent whose parenting time is ending drop the child off at the other home; a parent who comes to pick a child up may inadvertently interrupt something the child and other parent are doing, making the child upset or guilty at having to leave.
Of course, the best way to avoid upset over moving back and forth is taking your child's age, needs, and personality into account before creating a parenting time schedule. It's important to remember that parenting time is supposed to be designed for the best interests of the children, not those of the parents.
Please contact us at Mundahl Law with any questions you have regarding joint physical custody and making parenting time arrangements that work for your family. We look forward to working with you.