Even when a couple comes into the divorce mediation process ready and willing to cooperate, building a parenting plan that will stand the test of time can be difficult. This is because there will be a lot of changes in the lives of the minor children involved as they get older. As mediators, we must do our best to enhance our clients’ understanding that co-parenting will be a journey. After the divorce, the clients will have to continue to co-parent their children for years to come. So, how do you build a parenting plan that stands the test of time? The key is in flexibility. As a mediator, you want to assist the parties in building something they can rely on now, that will not be overly restrictive as the minor children get older. When we start this process, we talk to our clients about the court’s view on age-specific parenting.
Here are some of the basic ideas that we use to begin the conversation:
According to the Orange County Superior Court, the needs and interests of minor children change based on their age. For example, an infant child is in the process of forming attachments to both parents. Infancy to 3 years old is a crucial age for this reason. As such, the court recommends that the parents do not go for an extended period of time without contact with their child. From age 3-5, however, the children have most likely formed strong attachments. Even so, the court believes that consistency, predictability and structure are important. From ages 6-11 ,the court continues to value stability while focusing in on the parents’ ability to prepare the child(ren) for school and avoid conflict with one another. The court suggests that parents need to work together to establish consistent rules, structure and discipline for the child. From ages 12-18, the view regarding children’s needs changes significantly. At this age, children are forming their own social circles and tend to be interested in spending time with friends and participating in sports and other extra curricular activities.
So, how are all of the changing needs of children taken into account when building a parenting plan? The answer is this … be prepared to continue to work together to support the well being and happiness of your children. Parenting, just like anything else, is a journey. As parents, you will continue to grow alongside your children. You will have the opportunity to see your children develop into young men and women who will be ready to leave home and make their own imprint on the world. So, when you are creating your parenting plan, keep your children’s best interests in mind. Make sure that the schedule you put in place is reasonable for both you and your ex-spouse. Remember, you are both in this together and must still try to support one another in being the best parents you can be.
Even when you have tried your best to foresee all possibilities in your parenting plan, it is not possible to predict everything. This is why you will always have the option of modifying the parenting plan you create in mediation. Examples of these unforeseen changes are moving away due to a new job or relocation, re-marriage of either you or your ex-spouse, a significant change in your work schedule or your child’s school schedule, or even the simple fact that your child’s needs have changed. Therefore, while you can always work together in carrying out the spirit of your parenting plan (promoting the best interests of your child(ren)), you should rest assured knowing that your parenting plan can grow and change with your ever evolving life.
When parents divorce peacefully and respectfully, they do not destroy their family. They simply re-format it. Parents will always be parents and will always have their minor children in common. Take advantage of your ability to handle this challenge in a way that leaves your family as whole as possible under the circumstances. At Alternative Divorce Solutions, we pride ourselves in assisting families in creating parenting plans that stand the test of time.