Ten tips for a successful parenting plan after divorce
When parents separate, they must find a way to make sense of the flood of emotions caused by the breakup that can range from euphoria to sheer terror.
Decisions parents make at this time tend to be reactive and not in anyones best interest. For example, a spouse may "decide" to never see the other spouse again. If there were no children, this could be accomplished without too much difficulty. However, when the spouse is a parent, this perceived need to be away from the other parent is in direct conflict with a childs need to have two parents who love and care for him or her. Countless children have lost a parent due to this very serious problem. What can be done about this?
Planning is the first priority. The custody plans that are put in place right after the separation are likely to set a precedent that cannot easily be changed. The difficulty is that we are expected to be our most logical at precisely the time that we are the most emotionally upset. The coolest, smartest, most accomplished among us can easily become blithering idiots with the enormity of the changes and when fear takes over.
It is rare that parents make formal plans for their childrens future when the situation is normal. Plans evolve, day by day, month by month and year by year as the need arises. Now, when parents separate, the social, medical and educational needs have to be spelled out in great detail. Who is going to do what and when? Who will pay for the various expenses that come with child rearing? How will time be shared? How will parents communicate with each other or with the child when they are not together? What are the legal ramifications of the decisions that parents make? What used to be automatic can now be highly problematic.
What can help during this time of family reorganization is to give parents the proper tools to help them focus on the most important decisions that need to be made. The first and foremost tool is the parenting plan.
No matter how difficult the situation, there is tremendous value in a parent being prepared when meeting a mediator, lawyer, therapist, evaluator or a judge, and most of all when meeting with the other parent. Working on a parenting plan together helps the communications between the parents as they change from an intimate to a business relationship. If the parents are then able to jointly prepare a parenting plan, they are 80% more likely to carry out the plan than when a third party writes the plan for them. Nobody else understands their child like they do, and nobody else can anticipate their childs needs like they can.
No two families are alike, therefore it is impossible to use a cookie cutter to stamp out agreements that suit every family. However, all parents who separate must make several common decisions, and putting these decisions down in an easy to understand parenting plan for each childs life has the following advantages:
parents can articulate more clearly what they see is in the best interest of the child;
the best timeshare schedule for the time being can be determined;
parents can rest easier knowing that their childs social, medical and educational needs are being met;
the plan becomes a tie breaker when the parents disagree;
the chance of having both parents share in the love of and active care for the child is greatly enhanced;
the potential for reducing conflict with the other parent is substantial;
agreement can be reached on many details that can make a big difference in preventing future problems;
effective ways to communicate with the other parent are put in place;
a legally binding parenting plan becomes a living blueprint for a childs future.
it is cost efficient to have a basic plan figured out before reviewing with mediation or legal professionals.
Completing a parent plan helps greatly in overcoming the difficulties of the separation. Parents calm down their emotions, redefine their lives and move on. The family reorganization is unlikely to proceed in a satisfactory way unless this is done.
Dr. A. Jayne Major is the founder of The Parent Connection, Inc. and a recipient of numerous awards for educating over 14,000 parents in the last 18 years. She is also the author of Creating a Successful Parenting Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide For the Care of Children of Divided Families. See website.
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