Developing a Custody Schedule

In Child Custody, Separation & Divorce by Sarah Hink

In a custody case, one of the most important things to get right is a custody schedule. This is basically a plan between parents that specifically determines who the child will live with, or will visit with, at any given time. It is the legal blueprint that a child’s parents are obligated to follow.

How Is a Custody Schedule Developed?

A custody schedule can come about in two ways: an agreed custody schedule or a schedule determined by the court. Obviously, courts prefer that you and the child’s other parent reach an agreement. In fact, the legislature encourages “focused, good faith, and child-centered parenting agreements to reduce needless litigation over child custody matters and to promote the best interest of the child.” Courts will generally approve these agreements.

If you cannot reach an agreement, you will likely be ordered to mediation. If mediation does not result in an agreement, the judge will create a court-ordered schedule for you. In creating this schedule, the court has to consider several policies that underlie North Carolina custody statutes:

  • Except for cases involving child abuse, neglect, or dependency, the court must encourage “active and ongoing participation of both parents in the child’s life and contact with both parents when such is in the child’s best interest.”
  • Courts shall encourage “both parents to share equitably in the rights and responsibilities of raising their child, even after dissolution of marriage or unwed relationship.”
  • Courts shall encourage parents to “establish and maintain a healthy relationship with the other parent.”

In other words, even if you disagree, the state believes that it is in your child’s interest that both parents continue to stay actively involved in raising the child. So if you start from a position that your child’s other parent should have no visitation, we would seriously advise you to adjust your expectations. Absent child abuse, domestic violence, or some other clear indicator of unfitness, courts will not wholly deny visitation and access.

Key Provisions

For the sake of the child, it is best when parents attempt to put aside their animosity and work out a custody schedule. This schedule should come as close to establishing a sense of normalcy for the child as possible. In other words, follow the children’s day-to-day routines and the historic roles of both parents. In addition, the schedule should be highly specific. Some essential scheduling provisions to include are:

  • Where the child is going to spend weekdays and weekends.
  • Where the child is going to spend the holidays, birthdays, and the summer.
  • Who will transport the child.
  • Pick up and drop-off times, and locations.
  • Communication between the co-parents, including what happens when a parent has to stray from the schedule. If it significant to plan for how conflicts are going to be resolved.

New Direction Family Law can help you develop and negotiate a custody schedule that puts your child’s needs first. For over a decade, we have assisted parents through difficult child custody matters. We know that this is a very scary time, and want you to rest easy, knowing that you have a team of passionate, experienced professionals fighting for your interest. Call us today at (919) 719-3470 to schedule a consultation, or contact us online at our website.

Sarah J. Hink

New Direction Family Law


(919) 719-3470