by Lee Miller
If you are separating or getting divorced, and you have children, you must have a parenting plan.
Research shows that:
1 Only about a third of children are described as “doing well” three, five, and even 10 years after a divorce.
2 Another third have persistent adjustment difficulties.
3 The final third are still intensely unhappy, angry, dissatisfied with life, depressed and deeply lonely.
Points 2 & 3 are unlikely to be the future you dream of for your children. A mediated or counseled parenting plan will help you achieve point 1.
Specialists agree that:
• Shared parenting is what is best for children after divorce, including both week-day and weekend time with each parent.
• Both parents should share the rights and responsibilities of parenting.
• Parents, not judges, should decide what is best for children.
• Family mediation and other relevant support services are vital to the success of shared parenting arrangements.
Co-Parenting counseling helps you understand how your conflict and separation are affecting your children. Minimize your children’s burdens, as well as, reduce your own stress and life disruption. Co-parenting plans stop the fighting and bickering between lawyers and enable you to avoid the high cost of litigation. Give your children the future they deserve by agreeing a parenting plan.
Every single study on the effects of inter-parental conflict conclude that conflict is bad for children no matter how old they are or what stage of life they are at. The more conflict you have with your partner, the less attuned you are to your child’s developmental needs.
A parenting plan helps parents become more cooperative which in turn, helps them connect and understand what their children need and how to support them.
The goals of a parenting plan are:
• To remind parents of their intentions regarding their children (itemize physical and legal custody and child support)
• To reduce parental conflict
• To provide children with a consistent schedule with each parent
• To make the changes that come with divorce easier for the children to accept
• To make a legally enforceable document than can serve as a tie-breaker if a future conflict arises
• To be flexible to the changing needs of the family
• To clearly outline the parenting timeshare schedule, holiday and vacation schedule.
Not only does the law require it, but the parenting plan is your co-parenting bible. The way it is written, and what it contains, can influence the quality of your co-parenting, and impact how well or how poorly your children will do through the divorce and beyond.
If you and your partner are reasonably amicable as parents, then your parenting plan will be your scheduling tool, and your insurance policy for resolving conflict. This is your guide when things are not going smoothly and you are disagreeing about parenting issues. It will remind you of the specific terms that you agreed to, and will bring you back to your original agreement when things have casually changed over time but are now not working.
If you are in a conflicted relationship with your partner, the parenting plan can serve as a daily reminder of how you should be co-parenting.
The parenting plan can serve as the place to explore the micro-issues of parenting and express your different values about how the children should be raised.
Lee Miller is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in Santa Monica