Way back when, when I first started practicing family law and handled divorce cases, the norm for parenting arrangements following a divorce looked very similar in each case. One parent, usually the mother, would have sole custody while the other parent would have “visitation” with the children on alternating weekends and most often one day a week. I dislike that word “visitation” so much when it comes to your own children; no one should be “visiting” their children for parenting time.
This has held true very often in family court when it is left to a judge to decide on the hundreds of cases on his or her own desk. It is much easier to apply a general pattern than to actually sit down and think about the family individually and come up with a plan that would work to the needs of that family.
With the failure to take into account the individual needs of the family, the above arrangement, very often, placed a huge burden for the custodial parent who would have to the day to day parenting responsibility, while at the same time the non-custodial parent became the fun parent whose time with the children was weekend play.
Thanks to mediators in the court setting and private mediators who work with the couple to determine the individual needs of the families, the old model is not necessarily the norm, and more and more often divorcing parents are coming up with co-parenting arrangements. We are now drafting parenting plans that are tailored to meet the unique needs of individual families, many with two working parents and heavily scheduled children. In the past several years we are seeing an increase in both parents playing more active roles in their children’s daily lives, which may include coaching and attending sports, school functions and conferences, and in a variety of children’s activities.
So how do you make a co-parenting agreement work?
Consistency and Predictability
Both parents should be expected to be there on time and when they say they are going to be there. The other parent and the children are relying on the fact that the parent will be there. However, also be flexible should an unforeseen circumstance arise or maybe a work conflict comes up.
It is so important that parents can and do communicate with each other. Communication is not only limited to when and where the children have to be, but also any school issues, emotional issues and concerns the children may have. Work with each other to handle and resolve the issues together.
If you are planning to co-parent you should be geographically close to one another. Physical presence is key to a co-parenting arrangement.
Both parents need to be present for meetings, appointments, and special events. If you can be there for doctor’s appointments, recitals, plays, games, conferences and any event which may be important to your child.
Each parent should encourage the relationship between the child and the other parent. Each parent should also encourage the presence of the other parent at the children’s events, conferences and appointments. Also make sure the presence of both parents is a non-stressful one for the children without arguments between the parents. Save them if you must for a time out of the children’s presence.
Now with co-parenting comes responsibility. Both parents become a part of the daily routines of their children, including homework, filling out forms and permission slips, scheduling and attending doctor appointments, keeping a calendar with activities, setting up play dates and preparing school lunches.
A healthy divorce includes a healthy family and your children will gain the greatest benefit from your efforts as co-parents.
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