The Healthy Parenting Plan: Where to Begin?
Part I: A Conceptual Overview
As with any complicated subject, it helps to start by understanding the vocabulary.
1. Divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage. Once-committed adults are no longer legally related to each other.
2. A parent is a father or mother; or one who raises and nurtures a child.
Risking the obvious, it is emotionally refreshing to revel in the conclusion that divorce is not about children. Divorced parents are still legally related to their children; and mothers and fathers still raise and nurture their children. It is a relief to understand that from a child’s point of view, life does not have to fundamentally change when their parents live separately.
How is that possible in practice?
The emotional baggage and logistics that often confound parents at the outset are of little or no concern to children. Children have always implicitly relied on their parents to meet their needs, and will continue operating on that assumption. When parents realize that children have tunnel vision and are inherently self-centered—i.e. concerned about getting what they need—their job is instantly simplified. Focus on the familiar.
Children and Divorce: Big generalities do the trick:
1. Assure your kids that they did not cause their parents to separate. It was a grown-up decision.
2. Assure your kids that they are well- loved by both mommy and daddy; and that you will always be their mommy and daddy.
3. Assure your kids that they will always be taken care of.
With this mindset, you focus and act on what remains the same. Preserve routine (from the children’s perspective) even as you make new arrangements to maintain it. These incremental changes will evolve into a plan; it’s an organic process guided by the best interests of the children.
Part II: Creating Parenting Plans: The Nuts and Bolts
As Part I describes, you now recognize that your child/ren’s lives are less disrupted than you initially feared. You are meeting their practical needs; you are supporting their emotional needs; and you are relegating the issues of divorce to the two grown ups who are no longer married.
You are ready to document your successes and create your parenting plan.
What do you need to get started?
1. You don’t need any paperwork. When you come to mediation, you show up as mother and father. Your marital status and its attendant issues are not invited.
2. You need to agree that you are both acting in the best interest of your child/ren; neither parent stands to win or lose.
3. You need to actively and honestly explore and resolve:
A. Legal Custody. Will you share the rights as parents to make major decisions about your child/ren’s welfare (such as medical treatment, education, religious upbringing), with a view toward following a harmonious policy? Legal custody confers equal decision-making responsibility upon both parents irrespective of where the children live.
B. Physical Custody. Where will your child/ren live, and how will their time be divided between your homes? Will you continue to have joint physical custody, or will one of you have primary physical custody?
Primary physical custody is defined as more than 60% of annual overnight time.
(Remember: physical custody has no bearing on legal custody.)
4. You need stamina. Take a break and check your emotional barometer.
Did resolving custody issues deplete your reserves? If so, you might conclude your first session with a sense of major accomplishment. Subsequent logistics will flow sensibly now that your custody schedule is established.
When You Continue..
5. You will draw from what you’re already doing that works, and from the practical ramifications of your custody schedule, to make decisions about:
A. Summer Schedule/Vacations
B. Holiday and Special Occasion Schedule
C. Pick up/Drop Off arrangements
D. Business Travel provisions
E. Residence provisions
6. You will agree upon how and when to introduce your child/ren to new romantic interests.
7. You will identify and agree upon any other parenting requirements germane to your family for inclusion in your plan.
8. A draft of what you have created will be prepared by your parenting mediator and presented for your review. Take your time in reading and considering your plan. This document is wholly flexible and should fully reflect your unique set of family dynamics.
9. Be assured that even the “final” Plan is evolutionary; it can and should be changed in the future as your child/ren’s needs and circumstances change.
What to Remember..
The configuration of your family will change. Your living space may change. That you are your child/ren’s parents doesn’t change. Be who they need you to be and they will thrive no matter where they live or with whom they spend their birthday with this year.
The Healthy Parenting Plan is written courtesy of Sandi Sherr, M.Ed, parenting mediator for Main Line Family Law Center. For over 25 years, Sandi has been dedicated to building strong, healthy families - no matter their design. For more information or advice on creating a healthy parenting plan with your ex or soon-to-be-ex, contact Sandi at firstname.lastname@example.org