Why Custody Schedules Should Be Age-Appropriate

Why Custody Schedules Should Be Age-Appropriate

Considerations for custody agreements keeping age in mind.

A divorce is never easy, but when you add children into the mix, it can make things even more complicated. So issues around visitation schedules should be addressed as soon as possible. Whether that means sole custody with visitation rights or a joint custody arrangement is made, the child must be the primary consideration. Making decisions based on the age of each child can help formulate a workable plan.

Setting a Visitation Schedule

As each family has its own unique challenges, setting up a custody schedule that works is a personal decision ideally with the children’s best interests in mind. There is no guidebook on the right or wrong way to go about it with so many factors to consider:

  • Location of the child’s school
  • Working schedules
  • Where each parent lives
  • Child program schedules

There is much more to think about than setting up dates and times. One of the biggest factors is the age of each child. As their needs change over time, the custody schedule should be flexible and revised as necessary.

What to Consider for Different Age Groups

In general, children develop at roughly the same rates and in the same ways, so we can work with that as a guideline. Although, special needs may alter that developmental pattern, so it’s important to be accommodating in such cases.

Infants and Toddlers

From infancy through to toddlers children are doing a lot of “firsts” or development milestones. You may find that the child is more attached to one primary caregiver making predictability and familiarity a priority for the child. For that reason, short and frequent visitations between both parents can keep the relationships with the child blossoming. For infants, overnight visits away from the mother may be overly disruptive to the child and not worth the logistical hassles for the parents.

Three to Five Years of Age

In the three to five age group children start to build long term memories of things that happen, especially those connected to significant emotions. The child’s memory capacity has developed to the point where each parent holds a place in mind for longer periods when they are absent and they can better express their feelings. Visitations can progress into longer stays and overnight visits may be introduced if the child is willing to have extended stays away from the primary caregiver. But it’s important to carefully monitor the child through such constant change in living arrangements.

Five to Eight Years

From the ages of five to eight, children are coming to grips with the larger world around them. Peer engagement will become more a priority for the child as they develop a moral sense and practice social skills. Increased time away from the primary parent in favor of that social interaction may begin.


In the awkward stage between being a “kid” and a teen, pre-teens are learning to establish a social circle different from when they were younger. Friendships become more important with a focus on their own personal interests, leading to visits by each parent within the sphere of the child’s growing world. So more time around their primary home base is the key.


By the teenage years, children are becoming more independent and have less need for family protections. Their need for a connection with either parent is diminished, requiring interactions that fit their own social schedule. Flexibility, patience, and sensitivity should be at the top of mind for parents. These are only typical guidelines for establishing an age-appropriate custody schedule. The child’s temperament or even the parents’ behavior can impact these decisions.

Chris Marks

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