Child Custody Schedules & Their Psychological Effects on Children

By Erica Loop

Updated July 21, 2017

Father pulling blanket over son

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As difficult as a divorce is on the adults involved, adding children to the mix presents an additional set of challenges. While you and your now-ex are splitting up, it doesn't mean that your kids should feel the pinch of your own plight. Understanding the different types of custody arrangements and their psychological effects on the children can help to inform your decision-making process and create a schedule that works for your family 3.

Physical Custody

Physical and legal are the two primary types of custody that courts award divorcing parents, according to the California Courts judicial branch 2. Child custody schedules are part of physical custody agreements, and set guidelines as to which parent the child will live with and when. Legal custody refers to the parents' role in making key decision that affect the child such as education or health care. When it comes to physical custody, you'll find an array of arrangements that vary depending on the state's laws, the parents' mediation process and the family's needs.

Joint Custody

Joint custody includes a schedule in which both parents physical rights to the child. This doesn't always mean that each parent has equal time with the child or that she spends just as much time with mom as with dad. Some schedules may include weekends with one parent and weekdays with the other, monthly stays or more equitable splits -- such as dual residence -- that provide each parent an equal amount of time with the child. A joint custody arrangement, whether it is an unequal or equal amount of time with each parent, typically results in positive family relationships, a higher sense of self-esteem and an overall better sense of emotional adjustments for the child, according to the University of Missouri Extension 3.

Sole Custody

In contrast to joint custody, sole schedules include agreements in which the child physically lives with only one parent. In this type of schedule, the child resides with only mom or dad, but may visit with the other parent depending on the divorce and family situation. While avoiding the back and forth that joint custody forces families into may seem advantageous, children in sole custody arrangements have more behavioral problems and lower self-esteem than those who split their schedules between mom and dad, according to a study by the Baltimore Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Robert Bauserman, Ph.D., on the American Psychological Association website 4.

Visitation Options

When one parent doesn't share custody with the other -- or has less physical custody time than the other -- the family may need a visitation schedule. There are different types of visitation schedules that parents and courts may decide on, according to the California Courts 2. The parents may agree upon visitation according to a schedule, which includes a specific or set calendar of times to spend with the child. A more open option is "reasonable visitation," in which the parents may change the schedule and base it on their present needs. Visitation schedules provide children with the emotional and behavioral benefits of a joint custody agreement, allowing them access to each parent at different times. Although an open schedule may provide flexibility, it can also lead to conflict between the parents and confusion for the children. A set visitation schedule that both parents follow offers psychological stability and a routine that can better help children to cope with the emotional and mental issues that they face during and after their parents' divorce.