The Fifty Fifty Generation

Every other weekend and supper on Wednesday.  That was the standard schedule of visits with Dad that most divorced families subscribed to when I first started mediating child custody conflicts in 2000.  I work with couples in a mixed blue and white collar suburb in between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.   In my practice, parents’ attitudes have changed dramatically in the past decade.  In the past, both parents agreed that the children should live with their mother and visit their father, the conflict usually focusing on the frequency and length of those visits.  Many dads now say that the idea of “visiting” one’s own children leaves a bad taste in their mouth, and they are pushing more and more for the children to live fifty per cent of the time with them.  Some mothers agree with even sharing, and the Parenting Plan for the “Fifty-fifty Generation” kids goes forward with relative ease.

But many mothers who have always been the homework helper, carpool driver, and bedtime enforcer cannot understand why divorce should change or minimize those roles, and they believe the children ought to have one home base, with them.  For them, relinquishing their role as the primary nurturer is not easy.  Fathers argue that they can feed the kids, give baths, and get the kids to soccer practice just as well as Mother, and that time spent with them is more important than going to bed at exactly the same time and place every night.   Mothers worry about the children becoming disorganized, confused, and uprooted.

It seems that the battleground in custody has shifted to weekday nights.  Even when the mediator points out how many additional hours one has with children on a weekend day compared to a school night, it usually does not overcome the underlying perception that the “real” parent is the one that has the children overnight during the school week. 

Mom's Leaving Home - Mosaic by Roslyn Zinner

Mom's Leaving Home - Mosaic by Roslyn Zinner

Interestingly, in my experience, fathers frequently see their children as more resilient than mothers judge them to be.  Who is right?  Although we know from twenty five years of divorce research that children adjust better when both parents remain actively involved, we don’t know yet what impact there will be for children in the Fifty-fifty generation, who spend alternate weeks in each household.

Sometimes laws intended to simplify matters often complicate them.  In Maryland, the legal guidelines recommend a lower child support payment when there is “shared physical custody” than for “sole physical custody,” which is oddly defined as any parenting schedule in which one parent has the children fewer than 128 nights per year.   Unfortunately, sometimes this economic reality drives the discussion of the schedule for the children, as fathers seek to raise their share of nights and lower their support cost, as mothers seeking a higher level support take the opposite position.

Parents of the Fifty-fifty generation are experimenting creatively with many different schedules that take into account work obligations and the kids’ activities.  Sometimes the schedule bears a strong resemblance to the one prior to separation, as the parent who moved out returns and spends time with the children in the “marital” home, getting them off to school or fixing them dinner.  It is also no longer unusual to see divorced families sit down for a weekly dinner all together, something I never saw a mere ten years ago.

Fifty-fifty may turn out to be a good deal for kids, whose parents never fight over visits.  It will be fascinating to watch what happens when there are bumps along the way: parents remarry, move away or change jobs.  And how will the children feel, when they reach adulthood and can look back on the experience?