When Sarah and Andy got divorced, they had it all worked out: They would split custody. Each would have half the week, and they would alternate Sundays. This worked well for them when the kids were little since Sarah only worked weekends and could be home with the kids the first part of the week.
For his part, although Andy lived two towns over, his mother was close by and watched the kids while he was at work. The arrangement had been easy and navigable until now.
Sarah and Andy's twin boys are starting Kindergarten and their decree stipulates that the kids will go to school in Sarah's better-rated school district. Andy's job doesn't have much flexibility and his mom doesn't drive. Both Andy and Sarah agree something has to give, but they aren't sure what. Neither party wants to give up any more time with the kids.
Joint custody is very common nowadays. And there are many different ways to establish a shared parenting schedule. Prior to kids starting school, it may be easier to fashion a schedule when parties do not live in the same school district or geographical area.
As they grow...
Suddenly Andy, Jr. wants to be in soccer and practice is closer to Mom's house; his twin brother Seth wants to be near his friend Mark who lives next to his dad. As they get older, other extra-curriculars, church activities and even high school jobs can make the initial custody agreement anything from impractical to impossible. So how do you deal?
When it comes to changing your custody arrangements, as long as both parties agree, pretty much anything goes. With Andy's work schedule, and the kids in Sarah's district, it might be more practical for the kids to be with Mom during the week and Dad on the weekends, but with Dad having more time during the summer or when school is not in session.
Are there other options?
Assuming transportation can be worked out, a one-week on/one-week off schedule can sometimes work well for older school-aged children. For parents who live relatively close, a schedule where the children are with one parent two days during the school week, the other parent two days during the school week and the week-ends are alternated between the parents can work well and allow the children to have frequent and consistent contact with both parents. For parents that live far away from each other or in different states, the children may need to reside primarily with one parent during the school year and primarily with the other parent during school breaks and times school is not in session.
The bottom line is that there are as many right custody arrangements as there are families--and the schedule that works for you now may very well not work in years to come. Expecting to negotiate and be flexible as the years pass is something for which every parent should prepare. When parents are unable to work out custody modifications on their own they should seek advice from a family law attorney or try mediation.