The divorce process is an emotional time. Tensions surrounding a parenting plan may mount even when both parents prioritize the needs of the children. Responsiveness, stability, and practicality are significant factors in developing a parenting plan. As parents begin to develop a parenting plan, the need for flexibility is also very important in creating options that consider the child first.
The parenting agreement, in many ways, establishes the foundation for the children and their parents in moving forward with the new family structure. An effective parenting plan maximizes the child’s emotional security. It also needs to work well for the child and the parents and grow with the child.
Parenting plans, like many other agreements, can (and should) be tailored to the unique needs of the family. While many people are interested to know what constitutes a “good” or “effective” prenup, the answer will vary depending on the parents themselves. The process of getting to the agreement can be effective if approached in a positive and cooperative way. Parents should approach the parenting agreement as parents rather than as parties to a divorce/separation action. When developing a plan as parents, it may be easier to be accommodating and understanding of the children’s needs. As the children grow, the parenting plan may need to be adjusted for the parents’ and children’s sake. In many ways, the most “durable” type of parenting agreement is one that allows for modifications in the future.
It may seem easier said than done to create an effective yet flexible parenting agreement, especially in the midst of the divorce process. However, if the right resources are available and used by the parents, the parenting agreement can be crafted in a careful and cooperative way. For example, in collaborative law, professionals are not only trained in reaching an agreement in a cooperative way, specially trained child specialists also have insight into what may work for the parenting agreement and can be included in the decision-making process. Having a dedicated team of professionals can allow the parents to take a step back and think like parents rather than adversaries. Appropriate professionals may be able to offer options that have not yet been considered while facilitating a discussion about the practicality of each option.
Working with a mediator is another option where parents make their own decisions rather than have a third party make binding decisions about their family. Because the mediator is a neutral third party, the parents can have open dialogue with one another while still having a third party facilitate the discussion. Child focused mediation is a method of working with parents in dispute resolution forums and educational forums, focusing the process on the needs of the children.
Here are five questions for parents to consider when developing a parenting plan:
- How will the plan work for this particular child and for the members of the family?
- Does the plan maximize this child’s emotional security?
- Does the plan maximize responsive, stable care-giving?
- Is the plan stage appropriate and child centered?
- Is the plan practical (times, locations, travel, exchange, venues)?
Regardless of the type of process being used, a parenting agreement can effectively be made when the parents have flexibility in the details and focus on the needs of the child. For more information on processes available for divorce and parenting agreements, click here.
 These considerations are based upon research of Dr. Jennifer McIntosh, a clinical child psychologist, therapist and developmental researcher who practices child inclusive mediation. Deborah Hope Wayne, Esq. has been certified by Children Beyond Borders for child inclusive mediation.