An integral part of a divorce agreement is the custody and parenting piece. Parents are able tailor a unique plan that addresses how co-parenting will work post-divorce. Working cooperatively to develop a plan that reflects the parents’ schedules and the family’s needs helps to alleviate stress and provides stability for the children. Custody provisions detail how major decisions concerning the children will be made. Parenting plans can include many details about how the week will work, including: when each parent will be responsible for the children, pick-up/drop-off times and locations, holiday schedules, and communication preferences. These plans can also address special terms related to COVID, domestic and foreign travel and significant others. All of the provisions should be clearly laid out to eliminate confusion and possible frustration. Of course, some families prefer a more flexible, liberal schedule; especially with older children and that can be memorialized as well. Each family has a unique situation and the parenting plan should be consistent with the parents’ priorities and values as well as their work schedules. If the Children are young, parents can include a provision concerning when the parenting arrangements will be reviewed. Provisions that address what happens if there is a disagreement can also be included. The following are considerations for co-parenting agreements:
Consider Work and School Schedules.
Focusing on the parents’ actual schedules and availability each day of the week will facilitate a practical plan (as opposed to thinking about parenting in terms of a certain percentage of time). For example, if a parent does not arrive home from work until 6:00 or 7:00, the parents need to address what happens between after school and the parent’s return time. In dividing up the week, the parents also need to consider each child’s age and maturity level and how transitions between the two homes can be accomplished. An on-line family calendar can be use or a schedule for the week/month can be posted on the refrigerator. As the children are able, they can learn to post their own events.
The parenting arrangements should specify where and when each parent will pick up and drop off the children. Depending on the conflict level, the pick-ups and drop-offs can happen at the parents’ respective homes, or at the nesting residence if such agreement is in place. If this arrangement is not possible, or if other factors make this unreasonable, then a neutral location should be selected with the children’s comfort level and safety the priority.
Avoid having the children operate as middlemen or go-betweens.
Using the children as messengers can create discomfort and unnecessary pressure and responsibility for the children. The parents should agree on how and when they will communicate about the Children. Some parents prefer a weekly email or text and some parents prefer a weekly or monthly phone call. Having a communication schedule in place creates an opportunity to make sure both parents are fully aware of the Children’s development and any issues that may arise.
Mind your words and actions.
Parenting after divorce is an adjustment and can come with strong feelings. It is important to remember that everyone in the family is processing the divorce in his/her own way, and criticisms, negative comments, or other negative actions toward the other parent can put the children in uncomfortable situations. Perhaps one parent is late picking up the children or had to cancel at the last minute. Although this can be frustrating for a variety of reasons, airing grievances and feelings in front the of the children about this may have an effect on their own relationship with the parent. This type of issue should be addressed outside of the presence of the children. Scheduled co-parenting conferences provide an opportunity to discuss any issues that arise. Parents can be the best role models in a child’s life and this should be kept top of mind during the ups and downs of parenting.
Parenting after divorce is not only about creating a durable and practical plan, but also about creating a “new normal” for the children’s relationship with their parents. The change in time and frequency of time with each parent can be challenging for children, and any parenting plan should take this into account. Regardless of the parents’ current dynamic with one another, the children should be able to communicate to both parents when needed. This can be especially true when time is being spent in new environments.
Your parenting arrangement creates a foundation for the children’s stability and self-esteem. Working cooperatively on a parenting plan fosters a positive relationship with both parents and that benefits the children. For more information on process choices for co-parenting agreements, please visit my blog entitled: Putting the Children First: How the Collaborative Law and Mediation Process Can Help in Separation and Divorce.