Divorce, Custody and Parenting Plans
Guest Blog by: Kimberly Lorah, MS, LPC, CDC
When parents make the decision to end their marriage, their relationship changes from being a couple to being co-parents. Most parents are concerned about how the dissolution of the marriage will affect their children. Keeping the best interests of their children as a primary consideration when making decisions is the best way to ensure the smoothest transition and future well-being for all involved.
Divorce always affects children.
Research suggests that children aren’t necessarily hurt but divorce but, rather, are hurt when their parents do not get along sufficiently well enough to provide safe, stable living environment. The damage occurs as a result of the instability usually created by the parent’s conflicts.
Realistically, the overall impact depends on the dynamics of the family as well as the psychological make-up of the child. Structure is important for everyone involved. It is clear that kids suffer when they don’t know what is happening. Children need to know what is happening. They don’t need complex, detailed information about why it is happening or what is going on legally. However, they need to be informed regarding what is going to happen to them: when they will be with each parent, which school they will go to, if they will be able to play with their old friends, if they will maintain relationships with extended family.
Losses are more bearable and less long-term damage results from a divorce when parents can set aside personal vendettas, the need for revenge and controlling behaviors. The best possible outcomes result when parents are able to cooperate in making decisions that affect their children and truly work together for the best interests of their children. Navigating through a divorce in a congenial, amicable and healthy way improves the outcome for kids. The most effective way to reduce stress and minimize suffering is to behave in a manner that takes the children’s best interest to heart.
If you are a divorcing parent, the following issues will need to be addressed:
There are two types of custody
- Legal Custody – who has decision making authority for the child (major decisions such as medical, educational, religious)
- Physical Custody – with whom the child lives
Legal and Physical Custody are then broken down into two categories
The most common arrangement is joint legal custody with one parent designated as the primary (sole) physical custodian. The child will live with one parent and the other parent will have visitation rights. Both parents will be involved in making major decisions affecting the child. Cooperation and communication are essential for this arrangement to work.
Combinations of sole/joint and legal/physical custody are possible but sole legal custody is rare.
Visitation / Parenting Schedule
A reasonable parenting schedule gives children a sense of predictability and stability which is of utmost importance for well being and helps maintain the bond between the children and parents after divorce.
In an amicable divorce with both parents working together for the sake of the children, a more flexible parenting schedule can be worked out that can adjust with the individual needs and circumstances of both parents and children.
Basic areas to be covered in a visitation schedule are
- Where will the children live during the week?
- Where will they spend weekends?
- Where and when will children be dropped off and picked up (exchanged)?
The most typical visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent included every other weekend and a mid-week visit.
There are many other options that can be implemented based on the parents’ relationship and situation as well as the ages of the children.
Typically, day-to-day decisions (unless otherwise specified) are made by the parent with whom the child is with at that time.
Again, the best interests of the child/children are the primary considerations of the Parenting Plan.
A parenting plan is a default agreement if parents cannot agree.
Consideration must be made about the ages and needs of the children.
It establishes a pattern and consistency.
The aim is to assure fairness and/or consideration for each parent as well as to provide a framework to support children in their growth and development.
In addition to the issues of custody and visitation, a parenting plan outlines how different aspects of children’s lives will be handled both now and in the future.
Parenting Plans are unique but typically include, but are not limited to, the following:
1) Custody – legal and physical
2) Visitation / Parenting Schedule
3) Parental Responsibility and Decision Making
4) Day to Day Decisions
5) Extracurricular Activities
– Registration, transportation, cost
6) Information Sharing Considerations
– Access to medical and school records, emergency contacts, residential address and telephone contact information
7) Scheduling and Scheduling Changes
– First right of refusal
– Requesting changes
8) Time Sharing Schedule
– School Breaks
9) Transportation and Exchange of Children
– Cost, method, location
10) Foreign and Out of State Travel
– Between Parents -email, letter, text, etc.
– Between Parent and Child -means and times
13) Child Care Providers
– Selection and Agreement
14) Many other issues including – college costs, cell phones, driving lessons, medical insurance/co-pays, child support issues, attendance at school meetings, extracurricular activities, etc.
Family Wizard, TalkingParent.com and AppClose are helpful tools used in co-parenting.
- Kimberly Lorah is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Divorce Coach and the owner of Blossom Coaching, LLC. She has experience with divorce, both professionally and personally. As a mental health professional who also specializes in the unique needs of people impacted by divorce, she can help you manage the overwhelm, explore options, and gain clarity so that you are able to make the best possible decisions for your future. In addition, Kimberly is trained in divorce collaboration as well as mediation and acts as a divorce coach on collaborative teams. Kim offers free consultations and can be reached at 201-903-0240 or [email protected]. For more information, visit www.kimberlylorahcoaching.com