“What a distressing contrast there is between the radiant intelligence of the child and the feeble mentality of the average adult.” – Sigmund Freud
Children need love, affection and guidance from both parents. During a divorce, many parents can lose sight of their children’s needs and become more focused on “winning” custody. What they must remember is that their children cannot be won and regardless of who ends up living with the children, there are still two parental relationships that exist for that child.
There are several different types of living arrangements available. The most common form of custody is primary physical custody with one parent, or the primary residential parent. The other parent is given reasonable visitation with the children. Some parents do not like to use the word “visitation” since they believe they are not merely visiting their children. In those situations, they can also be referred to as the secondary residential parent. About 70% of these types of custody arrangements result in primary custody to the mother. This number continues to change as fathers take on a more active role in their children’s upbringing, and as more companies offer paid time off or flexibility to employees with children.
Many judges require parents to develop a written parenting plan before making custody orders. This helps to minimize conflict between the parents, as a written plan leaves very little room for future negotiation or argument. In making this plan, parents should consider what goals they have for their children, how they can be effective parents under different roofs, and most importantly, how they want their children to look back on time with their parents and their parents’ behaviors. This includes thinking about what type of adults the parents want their children to be. This also means figuring out the best way to communicate with the other parent on things like transportation, meals, activities, religion, education and medical decisions. The last consideration of how the child will reflect on the divorce experience as an adult easily gets lost in solving the other emotional or financial issues of a divorce. In the end, how the child views the divorce is the most important as they grow older and begin to understand the relationships in their own lives.
Flexibility in a parenting plan is essential. It is not to be abused by either party, but is necessary as we know that parents work, children have numerous activities and events to attend, and emergencies happen requiring a change in plans. Adding a remarriage and step-family into the mix only makes it more hectic to co-parent. Therefore, parenting plans cannot be carved in stone. They should be modifiable with changing circumstances as the families evolve and the children grow older.
It’s helpful to keep in mind a quote from divorce and custody mediator, Joan B. Kelly, “It is not the divorce per se, but the conditions and agreements the parents create during and after the divorce that will determine the child’s adjustment.” If you need assistance in designing a parenting plan that is appropriate for your children, contact an attorney with Cage & Miles, LLP today.