In my line of work, divorce and custody law, we spend a considerable amount of time arguing over timesharing schedules. I spend substantially less time arguing over child support calculations because our state has child support guidelines that the majority of judges and hearing officers follow fairly strictly.
Likewise, I spend less time arguing over property distribution because, living in a community property state, we have strict mandates regarding the division of property (50/50). Finally, while I do argue over the issue of spousal support, alimony guidelines have greatly assisted in calculating a range of amounts, ultimately reducing the amount of time in court.
The Courts have never issued visitation formulas that could be calculated with a click of the button for obvious reasons; people cannot be placed into formulas, and the majority of my practice is dedicated to optimizing my clients’ timesharing with their children after the parties have ended their relationship. However, the Bernalillo County Court Clinic just released their Guide to Developing Time Sharing Schedules (“Guide”) in September 2021.
The Bernalillo County Court Clinic Guide to Developing Time-Sharing Schedules
The Guide does an excellent job of setting forth timesharing guidelines for literally all custody situations and should substantially reduce the time spent arguing over custody arrangements. Like in the afore-mentioned spousal support and child support guidelines, conflict will not be eliminated, but certainly minimized.
An Important Development in New Mexico Timesharing Standards
When I first started practicing law in 1995, the Court Clinic had recently issued a small pamphlet setting forth timesharing standards for all age groups, devoting about three paragraphs to each group. The guidelines were conservative and still had not incorporated equality for fathers’ rights. There was no overnight visitation for infants to two-year-olds, and overnight visitation wasn’t recommended until age three – at which point the father only got one overnight per year. There was very little equal timesharing.
Fathers’ Rights and Equal Timesharing
Fathers’ rights gained traction in the early 2000s, but because the Court Clinic guidelines were still the law of the land (albeit not codified), it was difficult to obtain equal timesharing for fathers. In 2016 the State of Arizona released its Guide for Parents Living Apart, and New Mexico began following those guidelines to some extent.
How New Mexico’s New Guide Is Similar to Arizona’s Guide for Parents Living Apart
The new Guide is based largely on those 2016 guidelines. In its 68-page Guide, Arizona set forth guidelines for various situations. It broke down the following age groups:
- birth to age two,
- ages three to five,
- ages six to nine,
- ages ten to twelve,
- early teens,
- and late teens.
Within each development age group, the Guide laid out different plans based on two standards, the minimally involved parent and the fully involved parent. Involvement was determined by examining bonding, who the child had resided with, and who participated in the day-to-day upbringing. Other factors include parents’ work schedules and availability and the geographic distance between parents’ homes. These are many of the factors delineated in New Mexico’s joint custody statutes, but those New Mexico statutes never set forth timesharing guidelines.
The Court Clinic’s new Guide establishes timesharing guidelines for five different developmental stages:
- birth to age three,
- three to five,
- five to eight,
- nine to twelve,
- and thirteen to eighteen.
The Guide also quantifies three categories of parental involvement: the minimally involved parent, the parent who has a bond with the child, but who has less day-to-day involvement, and the very involved parent.
No judgment should be rendered on the minimally involved parent, as every situation is different. A minimally involved parent probably never resided with the custodial parent and may even reside in a different state. The parent with less day-to-day involvement may have resided with the custodial parent (pre-separation or divorce) but had a formal work schedule as opposed to a stay-at-home parent.
The “very involved” parent is one who shared the parenting equally during the marriage, including but not limited to taking children to school and appointments, making meals, bathing the children, and putting them to bed. A “very involved” parent likely resided with the child his or her entire life.
Understanding the Developmental Needs of Children of Divorce: Please keep reading and visit the New Mexico Court’s website for more information.
Birth to Age 3
Babies are just discovering the world around them. They are developing a sense of security and have no understanding of time. Out of sight, out of mind is what the baby knows and understands, which is why frequent and consistent timesharing is recommended.
For the minimally involved parent, the infant to three-year-old should start timesharing at 2-4 hours per day, 3-5 days per week. Each step should remain in place for 4 to 5 months. For the next step, the parties should increase the time to 4-8 hours per day, 3 to 5 days per week. Finally, after another 4 to 5 months, the parties can implement two 12-hour days with 2 other 4–8-hour days per week.
Overnight timesharing can begin once attachment is strong, and the overnight factors are met. Overnights can be added one at a time over the course of a year up to three overnight periods per week.
The Guide sets forth 6 factors to ease into overnight timesharing:
- First, there must be an established relationship.
- Secondly, the child must be adjusted to living in two homes.
- Thirdly, there must not be any safety concerns in the second parent home.
- Fourthly, the child must have trust in the second parent. (This is generally established with consistent timesharing and a safe home).
- Fifthly, the parent’s home must be set up for overnight timesharing. (The child doesn’t necessarily need his/her own room at this stage but must have a bed of his or her own).
- Finally, the second parent must be dependable. (He/she must have demonstrated the ability to fulfill parental responsibilities).
In the birth to age three developmental stage, overnight timesharing can begin immediately when the child already had an existing relationship and strong relationship with the second parent.
The minimally involved parent would not commence overnight timesharing until the other steps had been completed and all six of the overnight factors had been met, as well.
For parents who have some attachment with the child, but less involvement than the previous examples, timesharing starts with two full days per week and two shorter before adding an overnight after four to five months.
Three to Five Years of Age
This age still requires the consistency and predictability of the previous developmental stage, but the child can tolerate longer periods with each parent.
The minimally involved parent should start with 4–8-hour periods, 3-5 times per week. After 4 to 5 months, the times can increase to full 12-hour days twice per week with shorter periods in between. Overnight timesharing can commence 4 to 5 months later.
The parent with whom the child has a relationship, but less attachment can start with 2 full days of timesharing up to 4 times per week and can commence overnight timesharing (if the factors are met) 4 to 5 months later.
The parent who had been very involved prior to separation can commence overnight timesharing immediately. The plan for this child will generally commence with one overnight per week increasing to up to three overnight periods per week The overnight periods should be consecutive to prevent disruptive exchanges back and forth between homes.
Five to Eight Years of Age
Predicable timesharing is important in this developmental stage, and parents must manage school obligations.
For the parent who was minimally involved, timesharing should again start with 4-8 hours, exercised 3 times per week. After 4 to 5 months, timesharing can increase to full days twice per week with two shorter 4-8 hours days twice per week. After 4 to 5 months following this schedule, overnights can commence one night at a time before reaching 3 consecutive overnights per week.
The parent with who the child has a relationship, but less attachment can start timesharing of 2 full days per week accompanied by 2 shorter days per week. After following this plan for 4 to 5 months, overnight timesharing can commence adding one night at a time. Additional overnights can be added every 4 to 5 months until equal timesharing is achieved.
The very involved parent can immediately commence overnight timesharing starting with 2 overnights at a time and moving to equal timesharing over a 4-to-12-month period.
Nine- to Twelve-Year-Olds
The minimally involved parent starts with 6-to 8-hour visits before moving to full-day visits twice per week with two other short visits dispersed through the week. One overnight could commence after the first two stages are met. Additional overnights can commence after the other increments have been met, generally after an 8- to 12-month period.
Even the parent who was minimally involved during the relationship could achieve 50/50 timesharing by following these incremental steps. The parent who was very involved can commence overnight timesharing immediately with the child, but the parties may wish to use a three-month incremental plan before reaching equal timesharing, adding one overnight every three months until equal timesharing is achieved.
Thirteen- to Eighteen-Year-Olds
The guidelines are the same as for the 9–12-year-old, but sometimes time is scaled back as the teenager wants or even needs a primary home. The teen may have a job or school activities that require a home base. This may mean different children follow different schedules, but such should be used sparingly.
Some factors will prevent timesharing from progressing into the greater periods of timesharing. Conflict, inconsistency, and drug or alcohol abuse, as well as domestic violence are all factors that prevent increased timesharing. These are part of the safety factors specified for overnight visitation. The presence of these factors doesn’t mean visitation is eliminated, but it will be scaled back.
Need Help with Your Timesharing Schedule
The content I have discussed in this blog is based on New Mexico’s newest guidelines, but guidelines do not always reflect the timesharing schedule your family will have.
If you need help creating a timesharing schedule that serves your family and meets your child’s unique needs, please do not hesitate to contact my firm, Sandia Family Law.
Together, our firm has more than 20 years of hands-on legal experience, and we offer fair and aggressive representation to families in New Mexico. To speak with one of our family law attorneys today, please call us at (505) 544-5126 or send us a message online.
We look forward to providing you with honest, one-on-one legal guidance from start to finish.