Four parents share how they adapted their custody arrangements to suit their families.
By Julie Leduc
When it comes to child custody arrangements, there’s no onesizefitsall solution. Every family is different. What’s most important is regularly spending quality time with your child. How that’s done is up to you. Four parents share how they adapted their custody arrangements to suit their families.
Laurelou Chapleau and her former spouse separated when their daughter was 4 years old. From the beginning, they knew they wanted their daughter to keep seeing both parents as often as possible.
“My ex is self-employed and works from home, and I was a stay-at-home mom when we separated,” says Laurelou. “Our daughter was used to being around both her parents every day. We thought it would be horrible for her to go even a day without seeing both of us.”
At first, they tried a one-day-on, one-day-off shared custody arrangement to limit the impact of the separation. “It wasn’t a good idea,” she admits. “Our daughter was constantly bouncing from one apartment to another, we were always in a hurry, and she was getting tired. After a few weeks, something had to give.”
Two days on, two days off
In the end, the parents agreed to trade off custody of their daughter every two days. “It works for us,” says Laurelou. “We can both spend quality time with our daughter without giving her a chance to miss the other parent. It helps that we live close to each other.”
Since both parents are self-employed, they can easily tweak their schedules on the days they each have their daughter. And flexibility is key. “We only plan our schedule a month in advance,” says the mom. “Our custody days depend on our contracts.”
To simplify matters, their daughter never has to pack a suitcase. She keeps clothes and toys at both her parents’ homes. “Things get mixed up sometimes, but we don’t make a big deal out of it,” says Laurelou. It’s all her stuff in the end. She can take it wherever she wants.” The parents also try to be accommodating of each other. “If my family’s having a party while my daughter’s supposed to be with her dad, he’ll let her stay with me. We just want her to be happy,” adds the mother. “She was born into a two-parent household, and she thought she would spend her life with both of us. She didn’t have a say in us separating. We’re not a couple anymore, but the three of us are still a family, even though we don’t all live together.”
2-2-3 or 5-2-2-5?
Not seeing his little boy for a week? That’s out of the question for Vincent Desgagné! Fortunately, he and his former spouse have found a custody arrangement that prevents long separations.
When Vincent separated from his partner, their son was 2 ½ years old. “His mom and I thought that if we had him on alternating weeks, he would end up missing the other parent too much and vice versa. That’s why we went with the 2-2-3 arrangement at first.”
Under this custody arrangement, one week, the child was with his mom on Monday and Tuesday, with his father on Wednesday and Thursday, then back with his mother on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The next week, the parents would switch days.
“After a few months, we realized that it was a lot of back and forth in a short period of time for a toddler,” explains Vincent. “Plus, it was hard to get our son into a routine in just two or three days.”
Easier for their routines
So the parents switched to a 5-2-2-5 arrangement. “This way, we have the stability and repetition we wanted in the first place,” says the dad. Every Monday and Tuesday, Vincent’s son is with his mom, then he spends every Wednesday and Thursday with his dad. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, the parents alternate: their son spends one weekend with his mom and the next with his dad.
“This way, I can schedule regular activities with my son. For example, I signed him up for a karate class on Wednesdays,” explains Vincent. “I don’t need to check with his mom first. It’s our time together. I always go with him.” Spending five days in a row with his son also makes it easier to get into a routine. “I think it also helps give him some structure,” says the dad. “He’s starting to understand that, say, on Mondays and Tuesdays he’s with mom, and every Wednesday, he goes to karate with dad. And that’s reassuring for him.”
Vincent says that his son is adjusting well, in large part thanks to maintaining good communication with his ex. “No matter what type of custody arrangement you have, you have to talk to each other to make it work,” he concludes.
Sharing the family home
When Julie ended her relationship, she chose to share the family home with her former partner. It’s a decision that some people were skeptical of, but she’s never regretted it.
Her daughter was 3 at the time of the separation. “We were living in Quebec City, and I wanted to stay there while my ex went back to Montreal,” explains Julie. The parents weighed their options. They could sell the family home, get an apartment in Quebec City for the father, move their child between the two cities . . .
“We decided to keep the house in Quebec City for the sake of our daughter,” says Julie. “So there would be fewer changes for her and she could stay in her home. We didn’t want her life to be split between two cities and we didn’t want her feeling homesick and tired all the time because of all the travel. So I live in Quebec City with her, and her father comes to visit every two weeks.”
Because her ex can’t afford two apartments—one in Montreal and one in Quebec City—Julie is okay with him staying in the family home when he comes to see his daughter on the weekends. “It’s the best solution that we’ve found to make our separation livable for our daughter,” says the mother. “At first, I stayed in the house while he was here, but I made myself scarce to give them some space. As time went on, I started leaving so they could have the whole house to themselves, but we worked up to it.”
Communication is key
Julie explains that this method works for them because she and her ex have stayed on good terms. “Plus, we put our love lives on hold for a while for the sake of our daughter,” she says. “When we each started dating again after two years, our partners were understanding and respected our agreement. We also kept our partners out of the family home.”
Today, their daughter is 14 years old, and they’ve kept up the arrangement. “I have friends who can’t believe I’m still letting my ex stay in the house,” says Julie. “But I don’t listen to them. I’m so proud that our daughter is doing well. It’s worth every sacrifice!”
Adapting to an atypical schedule
It can be challenging to make joint custody arrangements when you work in health care and have nonstandard hours. However, Caroline Chartrand makes every effort to keep things stable for her daughter.
Caroline separated from her partner when their daughter was 18 months old. She juggles a variable schedule. “I work every other weekend, and during the week, my work days tend to vary.” She and her ex have chosen a 2-2-3 custody arrangement. They each spend two weekdays with their daughter and alternate weekends. “My daughter is with her father while I work weekends,” says Caroline. “I have her on Monday and Tuesday one week, then Wednesday and Thursday the next week. I arrange my weekday schedule around the days she’s with me.”
Thanks to this agreement, her daughter gets to see both parents regularly, and Caroline knows just how important that is for her daughter. “Sometimes we have no choice; because of our work commitments, we have to change our schedule a little,” says the mother. “But I know that my daughter, who’s 3 now, doesn’t like it. It’s important for her to know where she’s going and what to expect. Also, when she spends more than three days with the same parent, she starts missing the other one. So despite my odd schedule, we try to make as few changes as possible.”
Putting your child first
Caroline remembers how hard it was after her parents separated when she was just a year old. “I had always promised myself that I would do everything to protect my child if I ever got separated.” That’s why she’s making an effort to stay on good terms with her ex. She doesn’t speak ill of him and she makes sure her daughter spends an equal amount of time with both parents.
Her ex lives in the same neighbourhood as her, which helps. “She’s gotten sick while she was with me, and her dad was the one who went to the pharmacy to get her medicine,” says Caroline. “Then he came over to give me a breather. We support each other as parents—it’s in her best interest.”
Learn more about different custody arrangements
Department of Justice Canada
(Click on “Children’s time with each parent”)