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Time Sharing Guidelines

William F. Hodges*

The following guidelines were developed by the late William F. Hodges, a well known child development specialist with expertise in timesharing of children of divorce. Following the guidelines is information where exceptions may be warranted.

Many child development specialists would find these guidelines are not flexible nor frequent enough for parents with a reasonably good coparenting relationship and when both parents are able to adequately care for their children.

I. BIRTH TO 6 MONTHS: The time sharing pattern recommended centers on predictability and frequency. The more frequent the noncustodial parent can be available, the longer the duration should be. For infants who can only with the with noncustodial parent once or twice a week, time sharing should not exceed two hours. With time sharing which takes place every day or every other day, infants can develop attachments to the noncustodial parents that can maintain their security. Infants should spend more waking hours with the custodial parent than the noncustodial parent. Stability of child care location should be maintained. Overnight time sharing is not recommended.

II. 6 TO 18 MONTHS: For younger infants, short periods of one to three hours are recommended if frequency for sharing time is low. If contact is regular and frequent, the child can handle additional time that is daily or every other day. The length of such periods can be adjusted. The noncustodial parent should recognize that the infant of this age needs predictability and familiarity. Time sharing will work best when time sharing occurs in the same location every time. The infant should not be left with another caregiver during time sharing unless the infant has had frequent opportunity to interact with that caregiver. Overnight time sharing is not recommended.

III. 18 TO 36 MONTHS: Children from 18 months to 3 years of age can handle periods of time that are less frequent than for infants but consistency and frequency are still important. An 18-month old child who spends time with the noncustodial parent only on weekends can handle parts of a day. By three years of age the child can spend an overnight without harm. Weekend long periods are still not recommended. Several times a week rather than a long weekend is more helpful to the child. Long periods during summer vacations are not recommended. While the exact length of a long period during the summer for this age is not known, a child familiar with and bonded to the noncustodial parent can handle three to four days. A child who has not had frequent contact with the noncustodial parent due to geographic distance should not be separated from the noncustodial parent for more than a day or two. Of course this is opposite to what many noncustodial parents desire.

IV. 3 TO 5 YEARS: Preschool age children can handle weekend visits during the year and weeklong visits for holiday and summer vacations, if limited infrequency. It is not known what the maximum long visit can be that will still benefit the child. Visits of longer than a week may still be inappropriate without visitation with the custodial parent.

V. 6 TO 10 YEARS: The school age child needs to develop peer relationships. If the two parents have a reasonably cordial relationship, visitation more frequent than every other weekend may be desirable. At 7 or 8 years of age, children who have contact with the noncustodial parent several times a week are the most content with visitation. Contact once or more during the week is helpful. Children seem to benefit from more contact with the noncustodial parent rather than less, but the time of maximum benefit is not known. Flexibility within some general scheduling of visitation is helpful. When conflict between parents is high, children benefit from a more structured, predictable pattern of visitation. Long visitations during the summer are acceptable, but some contact with the custodial parent, either through visitations ore phone, is desirable.

VI. 11 to 12 YEARS: Some reduction in visitation may be appropriate at 11 to 12 years of age. Peer involvement at this age may lead children to want less contact with the parents and a more flexible visitation schedule. At ages 10 to 11, boys in particular seem to prefer less contact with the noncustodial parent, perhaps only every other week. If the child prefers to maintain weekly contact, this amount of contact should be permitted.

VII. ADOLESCENCE: Time sharing with adolescents should take into account that teenagers do not need contact of long duration with either parent. Weekend visitations may interfere with developmental needs to separate from both parents. Contact once or twice a week for an hour or more may be enough contact. Some contact should occur each week or every other week.


1. When there is significant, ongoing parental conflict, reduce the length of each time sharing period.

2. When there is significant, ongoing parental conflict, reduce the number of transitions from one parent to the other and arrange for them to occur at a neutral site.

3. When one parent is chronically late, reduce the number of transitions. Tardiness is difficult for children who are waiting for their other parent to remember them.

4. When the custodial parent is severely maladjusted, build a relief system for the child to help ease intensity.

5. When the noncustodial parent lives at an extended distance:

a. Protect young children from long travel

b. Arrange for the moving parent to undertake the commute

c. Long, infrequent periods of time sharing can be harmful (six weeks in summer is too long for children under six).

6. When the parent is psychologically impaired, support the bond between the parent and child to minimize the child's positive/negative fantasies about that parent.

7. When there is a sibling present to whom the child feels attached emotionally, the time sharing periods may be lengthened, especially if the sibling is older.

8. When the parents design a plan that conflicts with the development of the child, negotiate as close as to can to the guidelines.

9. When a parent is a recognized abuser:

a. Sharing time with the abuser precludes the child fantasizing about this parent. However time sharing should be carefully supervised.

b. If the parent cannot function appropriately during supervised time sharing, cease to allow time sharing to happen. One should not assume that appropriate behavior will continue after supervision ends. Before independent time sharing is undertaken, a careful assessment and subsequent plan is essential.

c. Avoid relatives and friends as supervisors if at all possible. Usually their personal biases will determine their approach to supervision and not be in the best interest of the child.

10. When a parent is sexually active (regardless of their sexual orientation):

a. Can the child be sensitive to the parent's need for privacy about it?

b. Can the parent keep the child away from sexually-explicit behaviors and materials?

11. When a parent is indiscreet in matters of social, sexual, psychological, drug behavior.

12. When a parent is reentering a child's life after a long absence:

a. Initially time sharing should be in the presence of an adult supervisor with whom the child is comfortable and without feelings of fear and intimidation. an anxious custodial parent requires some assurance that the child will not be traumatized and the child requires some time to become acclimated to the new situation.

b. Provide education to the reentering parent about child development and expectations.

c. After supervision ends, systematically increase time sharing and frequency over time.

13. When the child is one with a "difficult" temperament: doesn't like change, overreacts, intense temper tantrums, establish routines in all environments rendering them highly predictable and further, establish consistent behavioral expectations in both households. Regular time sharing allows the custodial parent opportunities to recoup, though the difficult child usually becomes calmer by age four or five.


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