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2-2-5-Whaaa? (Finding the possible in impossible parenting schedules)

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

“We started out right away with a week on, week off. My ex pushed for this right away, and I agreed too quickly. I’ve since realized it probably worked for him because it worked with his new girlfriend’s schedule. But it is too long of a stretch for my kids, and shorter visits at each house would have been better all around at the start.

(Tracy, age 43, separated three years)

If you’re in the midst of planning or negotiating a separation as a parent, you’ve likely already encountered the bewildering array of terminology and schedules out there to choose from.

You might have asked your divorced friends what they’re using, or started with a basic internet search, but got back mysterious coded answers like “2,2,3” and “5,5,2,2” mixed in with a choose-your-own-adventure decision-making tree based on whether you have a split, shared or sole parenting arrangement.

And if you’re like most of us, this is the point your brain immediately shut off and numbed out. But we’re here to help ease the scheduling overwhelm with lessons and insights we learned the hard way—through the trial and error of our own experiences.

There are SO many options, and every family will have one they prefer. In our experience, it’s great to ask people what they use, but also why they like it. You might find that what works well for one family is because of something specific to their situation that may or may not apply to yours: the age of their kids, how many activities they have in a week, how much travel time is involved to transfer kids between each parents’ house, work and holiday schedules, and many, many other factors.

It’s also good to keep in mind your family’s and children's needs will likely change over time so, if possible, you may want to revisit and adapt your parenting time schedule as your children get older.

Parenting time 101

First off, it’s important to note that in the spring of 2021, changes to the Canadian Divorce Act included changes to some of the terms around custody and parenting. Notably, the terms “custody” or “access” have been replaced by “decision-making responsibility” and “parenting time”.

We’ll use the new terms here too, based on the following definitions from the Canadian Department of Justice:

Shared parenting time refers to situations where a child spends at least 40 percent of the time with each parent. (Shared parenting time was formerly referred to as shared custody.)

Split parenting time refers to situations involving more than one child where each parent has the majority of parenting time—over 60 percent—with at least one of the children. (Split parenting time was formerly referred to as split custody.)

Majority of parenting time refers to situations where a child spends more than 60 percent of the time with one parent. (Majority of parenting time was formerly referred to as sole custody.)

So your parenting time schedule—the rotation of when care of the kids is transferred between their parents—will ideally be logical, fair and follow your parenting agreement. It will also ideally put the best interests of the kids first.

And remember, parenting includes time the kids are in your care but physically at school or camp. It can also include holidays and special occasions such as birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day, and religious and statutory holidays.

Also keep in mind that spring, winter and summer breaks from school can give you added flexibility when creating your parenting schedule. If you live in a different city from your ex, or the nature of your work makes it tough to pull off a weekly rotation, you might be able to consider using longer stretches of school vacation time to make a parenting schedule that is still fair and equitable.

Choosing a parenting schedule