Dissolution or the breakup of a family is stressful for everyone but particularly hard on kids. If you are a parent going through a divorce or dissolution of a family unit, your children are your biggest concern. A strong parenting plan can help you ease the transition for your children and set them up for a healthy, happy future. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you get started.
What can help your child adjust?
Most parents want the best for their children. Pennsylvania law does, too. Child custody laws use the best interest of a child as the guiding principle for all custody decisions. With that in mind, you and your ex can take several factors into account to create a positive parenting plan. Consider the following:
DO minimize disruptions. Your children are already facing a lot of change. Think about ways you can keep things consistent and reduce too many transitions. Consistency will help your child adjust over time, so stick to your schedule. Some parents create a status quo for custody or a step up plan so that children can adjust over time.
DO consider how your child feels. If they are old enough, talk to them about their feelings. Try to incorporate those feelings in your planning. Remember that your child needs to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. There is no specific age in Child Custody laws but the Court can consider the “well-reasoned” preference of a child.
DO honor the activities important to your child. Juggling camps, sports and play dates may seem more difficult as a single parent, but they are still important to your child. Don’t forget that some activities may be on hold right now due to the pandemic but could start back up at some point. This is an extremely important factor and most Courts allow children to continue to participate in all activities they want.
DO agree to the details and stick to them. Search for common ground regarding issues like healthcare, education and holidays. Put them in writing and stick to them.
What should you avoid?
There are also pitfalls you want to avoid, including:
DON’T make it about you. This part of your divorce and dissolution is about your children, not you or your ex. Child custody is not a win/lose situation. Whatever problems you may have with your ex, keep them separate from your parenting plan. There are specific ways to create a Parenting Plan to keep things focused on the children so if this is an issue in your case make sure language in the Plan speaks to the parents conflicts.
DON’T put your children in the middle. This means you should not speak poorly about your ex to your children or ask them to pass along messages. Keep communication with your ex between the two of you. There are web sites which can assist in this which the Courts use. They are inexpensive and create a good record of communication which can be essential if you have to involve the Court.
DON’T assume you are the better parent. You and your ex may have different ways of doing things, but that is okay. Try to be supportive of each other. That being said, having consistent basic rules between both houses can help your child feel more stable.
These are only a few of the many things for you to consider when developing your parenting plan. If you cannot come to an agreement, a judge will make these decisions for you. You can avoid that by creating a strong parenting plan yourselves, which will help both you and your child in the long run. After all, you and your ex know your children better than anyone else. You are uniquely qualified to create the right plan for your family.
Some parents are afraid of “going to Court,” but actually the Court requires mediation and conciliations to take place before appearing in front of a judge. This process can be extremely helpful and result in a long-lasting agreement and stop the fighting, which is best for all children.