A well-crafted parenting plan should take into account than just the details of which parent has which child on which day. Creative holiday planning, boundaries for financial discussions, and common household rules provide children of all ages and their separated or divorced parents with the stabilizing consistency and predictability they need to thrive.
Children’s needs for time per parent varies greatly by age, temperament and situation. A knowledgeable mediator, therapist or other expert in this area can help you understand typically age-appropriate custody plans and how they can be tailored to address the best interests of your children while working within a practical, consistent schedules.
You and your ex may have several differences in your perceptions of what defines “good parenting.” It is typical for one parent to have habitually played good cop to the other’s bad cop during the marriage, even if one resented their role. But chances are you can agree on a few basic rules that can be shared in each residence - such as “Hitting your sibling earns an immediate loss of a privilege” and “No calling Mommy for permission if you are with Daddy and vice versa”. Therefore. your children know they are always accountable and Mom and Dad may no longer be married, but they are still a team and still in charge.
It is amazing what a little dry erase board can do. Even if your children will not admit it, learning to roll with a new schedule of back and forth between homes can exhaust and frustrate them. Placing a clear calendar in a central room, such as the kitchen, that changes as any custody arrangements change can have a huge impact. I find that my clients who do this diligently are often surprised when their child, who they have never actually seen looking at the calendar, will suddenly remark with an “I know, I saw it on the calendar” upon being informed of a recent switch.
Just like in the famous Pina Colada song, we may think we know someone better than anyone else does, and find ourselves shocked to hear that they like “the feel of the ocean and the taste of champagne”. The same goes for our kids. Sometimes it is hardest for children to tell their parents, the people they love and need most in the world, what they really feel, want and need. By trusting skilled professionals who encounter separated, divorced and blended families on a regular basis, parents can learn of creative co-parenting methods they may never have considered before.
Here you are putting time, energy and money into creating a solid parenting plan from the start. You will be co-parenting with your ex until your child is at least 18, but really until the end of your life. Your children’s needs, as well as your own, will very likely change over time. Running back to court every time there is a simple disagreement is neither practical nor affordable for yourselves nor the court system. The parenting plans I create with my clients always include a dispute resolution clause, which basically outlines the steps must take prior to taking their issues back to court. These steps can be as simple as emailing each other for written consent to change the agreement between themselves, setting up regular monthly appointments to keep each other updated about the kids, or even an agreement to head to a mediation session to work through an issue that is too tough to iron out themselves. Pre-thinking how disagreements can be resolved outside of the courtroom saves time, money and strength every one can use better elsewhere.
Being a divorced parent myself, I know the first question most people ask me is “What percentage of time do you get the kids?” When choosing physical custody arrangements, most parents know a percentage of time each has will be calculated somehow, and they know that this impact the amount they will have to pay or the amount they will receive in child support. However, the percentage of time is only one of several factors in child support calculations, and the difference between 40% and 50% is often a matter of a relatively small amount of money. Focus on a custody schedule that makes sense for yourselves and your children, and leave the support calculations for the financial discussions later.
Your children have been your greatest gift to each other, so the easiest punishment of an ex you feel wronged by would naturally seem to be keeping that gift away from them as much as possible. And when you feel have been hurt, it is natural as well to want to protect your children from someone you believe would hurt them as well. But the only real losers when your children become bargaining chips are the children themselves, and then really, there is no winner at all. If you have serious, ongoing concerns related to your ex and mental illness, abuse or addiction, hiring an expert child custody evaluator will provide a professional opinion of what is truly in the best interests of your children.
Of course your child loves you and you have done an excellent job as a parent, but I believe you would be hard pressed to find one child who has not tried to “work it” with their parents at least once or twice, regardless of whether or not their parents are married or divorced. Consider including within your parenting plan a way of confirming with each in a simple manner such as via text message, whether or not your teenager is really headed to the other parent’s home for the night, or whether or not Daddy really told your preschooler it is OK to no longer brush his teeth, really ever ever. It will lessen the occurrence of unnecessary fights with your ex, and keep your children in check, which is where they really want to be, even if they don’t know it or won’t admit it.
Yes, it is very important for each parent to have quality time with each child, and quality time includes fun and play at any age. But you are still a parent, even if it is only for three hours per day. Homework must be done. Rules must be followed. And your child is likely to want to have a friend over or leave for a friend’s house during your scheduled time. This does not mean that you are being too strict or that they do not want to be with you. It means they want and need you to be their parent, just like when you were married.
When writing the parenting plan itself, many issues that parents get understandably hung up, such as how often their children should call them or what bedtime should be in house, are essentially unenforceable in court, and will only lead to racked up attorney fees and heightened conflict between you and your ex. Look at the big picture concepts - that you and your ex agree that the kids should be able to speak with you both as they desire, and that they should be well rested so they can succeed in school and play, and let life play out naturally as it would if you were still married. Let the experts - the therapists, mediators, attorneys - be your guide, and then trust yourself, your ex and your children to adjust to your new normal. Life will move on and you will all grow the better for it.
Co-parenting is more than simply co-scheduling. Children of divorced parents can and do thrive on the same consistent rules and constructive communication as children of married couples. Taking the time now to consider how you and your ex can work together in the future sets a path for success and reduced conflicted - a terrific model all of your children’s and your own relationships in life.
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