Helping your child handle the transition.
We’ve all heard the stories: divorcing parents who have limited access to their children, who don’t pay support, or who are in and out of court every time the children are brought back late from a visit. Tens of thousands of dollars are spent in legal fees and several years pass by, only to end up with an agreement that doesn’t meet anyone’s needs – especially the children.
What is the common mistake that most of these parents made? They ended up in a tug of war to see who would win!
Many times differences, mistrust, emotions and/or the inability to communicate cause parents to lose focus of the children’s needs. It is essential during a divorce to separate the adult relationship issues from the parenting issues. That’s where a parenting plan comes in.
Why a parenting plan?
When parents put the primary focus on the needs of the child, and put their own emotions aside for a time, positive things happen. Parenting plans help manage the expectations of the children and the parents and allow both parents to have a voice in the process. Developing a parenting plan is sometimes difficult, but can be very rewarding.
In general, parents want to reduce conflict and confusion for their children as well as encourage a good relationship between their children and the other parent. Parents really do want to make the period of transition and all future exciting events in the children’s lives less stressful.
Two factors that determine how well children cope during a separation are the parents’ ability to communicate and to manage conflict.
Where do you start?
There are excellent websites, articles, books, worksheets, and local professionals to help parents decide how to get started and which route to take in developing their parenting plan. In addition to searching the internet, parents can check out resources at their local library, visit the Family Law Information Centre available at many of the court houses, or schedule a consultation with a lawyer. The Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General site is a great tool for guidance (www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/divorce/).
If poor communication or high levels of distrust make it impossible for parents to develop their own parenting plan, there are other options. Parents can get help from a mediator who will guide them through the process, which helps to reduce costs, stress and conflict while putting the children’s interests first.
Another option is to use a collaborative lawyer who will work with parents to develop a parenting plan outside of court. This is a less costly and less stressful option than the traditional divorce process. (Both the mediator and the collaborative lawyer can also help you with other aspects of your divorce.)
Settling parenting issues through the courts is usually not the best option for families. The process is likely to be frustrating and stressful and erode any feelings of kindness that remain. This is also, by far, the most costly option available to parents.
Note, however, that parenting plans are not legally binding without getting independent legal advice and filing the agreement with the courts.
Deal with practical matters
The parenting plan should set out the parent’s joint guidelines and expectations for the children and deal with practical matters related to their medical, emotional, educational, spiritual, physical and social needs. Among other things, the plan should cover issues such as:
> where the children will live
> how the co-parenting schedule will work
> how to communicate about such things as school, doctors, and extra-curricular activities
> how to support relationships with grandparents, relatives and friends
> how to handle family vacations, school holidays and birthdays
Creating a parenting plan helps parents identify the best interests of their children and allows family members to move forward. It allows both parents to provide consistent answers to their children’s many questions. Plus, it provides continuity and structure for the children during this very unstable time.
Make it your own
The less trust between the parents, the more detailed the plan should be. Both parents should have a voice and communicate directly regarding what is best for the children. Create a transition plan that works for your family. There is no right or wrong way to go about it; plans can be as unique as your family.
Making positive choices during your separation is the biggest success factor for how well your children handle and remember the transition.