What is a “good” Parenting Plan (Aka custody agreement?)
Recently I was eating dinner at a restaurant and saw a divorced father dining with his precious daughter. She was about seven or eight, and she walked into the restaurant sulking. It was quite clear that she didn’t want to be with her father. As the meal progressed, it also became clear that the father didn’t want to be with his daughter that night. The Father remained on his cell phone checking Facebook, while his daughter tried to get his attention.
Did he “win” this custody arrangement? Was it something he had fought to get? I will probably never know the answer to this – however it made me think about the benefits of working out a parenting plan in mediation.
In mediation we like to refer to a custody arrangement as a parenting plan. Already, just reframing the language diffuses the combative tone parents feel they should take when discussing what happens to their children post-divorce. “Custody” invokes feelings of winning and losing, whereas “parenting plan” connotes a joint goal to raise children together.
In mediation, we explore the following areas when devising a parenting plan:
-Parents’ work schedules
-Parents’ free time: when do parents have free time and what free time do they need – perhaps to catch up on doctors’ appoints, errands, bills, etc.
-Children’s schedules: school, sports, hobbies, social activities, play dates. (There is nothing worse than a child being told she can’t play with her friends or attend a party because she has to be with her father or mother.)
-Children’s free time
-The ability of parents to use a babysitter – and both parents’ thoughts on leaving children with a babysitter or asking the other parent first to watch the children (“Right of first refusal”).
-Contingencies when one parent needs to change the plan, or the child has a conflicting plan
Our goal in mediation is to work out a parenting plan that will reduce situations in which the parent or the child is unhappy spending time with one another. Yes, occasionally this is bound to happen. However it happens substantially less when both parents control their own parenting plan.