When a family goes through the divorce process, there is often an emphasis placed on co-parenting – both parents sharing the responsibilities of caring for the children. It is important that spouses and co-parents find an approach to child custody and timesharing that suits their own family’s background, circumstances, needs and preferences.
The divorce process is an emotional time, and working out a parenting schedule can add stress to the situation. Depending on how the living arrangements are handled between the parents, it can be difficult to transition from seeing the children every day to a less consistent basis. Working to develop a co-parenting plan during the divorce process can alleviate some stress for the parents, while also helping the children to adjust to the new situation. Often during the divorce process, there can be a level of inconsistency in terms of when each parent spends time with the children and who takes on certain responsibilities (i.e. taking the children to/from school or activities). Being able to create a schedule, even if preliminary or temporary, gives the children continued stability which can allow a smoother transition to their new situation.
The difficult aspect of co-parenting during the divorce process is that there may be a lot of moving parts in terms of the relationship and each party’s goals. This can be especially true if the relationship is contentious. Depending on the process choice being used for the divorce, there are different ways the couple can make preliminary arrangements for the children.
For example, in mediation and the collaborative law process, the couple may enter into an interim agreement regarding parenting issues while the couple works on financial and other issues that need to be resolved. The purpose of such an agreement is to stabilize the situation and enable each party to feel protected as the couple works towards resolution (for more information on mediation, click here). While one parent may not have officially moved out of the family residence, the interim agreement may specify that the parent will be securing a new residence and that the other parent will remain in the home. The interim agreement can also state how the parenting arrangements will work for the time being. For example, it may state that the children will remain in the family home with one parent, but that the other parent will have reasonable and consistent access to the children and able to spend time with them. This may happen at the marital residence or elsewhere. There are many options for such an agreement. There is no single ideal schedule. Different schedules work better for children of different ages. The idea is to agree on a parenting plan that is practical and one that allows each parent to have a meaningful role in the children’s lives.
If collaborative law is being used for the divorce, the couple has the option of consulting with a neutral child specialist to help determine what may work best (for more information on the child specialist’s role on the collaborative team, click here). The child specialist and other members of the collaborative team can help the couple evaluate the current situation and what may work best before the divorce is finalized.
Regardless of the process choice, the couple can benefit from an open discussion of the situation and what each parent would like to do. This can be difficult, but not impossible, if the relationship is more contentious. Most couples that choose mediation or the collaborative law process are looking to prioritize the children in both the legal negotiations and parenting arrangements they construct. These couples understand that arriving at a co-parenting partnership is critical to making any parenting plan work In the majority of family law cases, it is the parents who are in the best position to make important decisions about what is best for the children. Mediation and collaborative law are processes that allow couples to think creatively and practically about the parenting plan that will work best for their family. A legal agreement that lays out clear guidelines for decision-making and parenting responsibilities is a good foundation for a healthy transition to a family living in two homes.