We all know the stereotypical custody fights – mom or dad wants to go all out to keep the other parent away from their kids.
But in mediation we frequently see the flip side of this issue. One parent is upset that the other is too absent as a parent and wants to require that parent to spend MORE time with their kids.
As divorce lawyer Randall M. Kessler in a March 3, 2016 Huffpost Divorce blog writes, “You cannot “make” someone visit with their children, but you can incentivize, is incentivize a word?motivate and encourage.”
Mr. Kessler discusses ways this might occur in a litigated divorce – a negative incentive, such as if a parent doesn’t show up for his or her scheduled visit, they should pay the cost of a babysitter; or positive ones such as offering flexibility with time; or to do the work for them “like to plan a birthday or holiday party and let the other parent come enjoy it without having to prepare, contribute or clean up.”
While these might be effective ideas, the very nature of mediation ensures that both parents maintain strong bonds with their children:
1. Unlike in a divorce litigation, where parties talk through their lawyers, in a mediation, you sit down with your spouse and hammer out a parenting plan together that you both feel comfortable with.
2. We always reality test any terms; Do you have an erratic work schedule, which makes a traditional parenting plan unrealistic?
3. Couples explore their concerns about seeing their children – often we uncover that drop off and pick up of the kids is so fraught with tension, it reduces the willingness of a parent to show up to take the kids! Couples discuss ways of reducing this tension – older children might wait outside the home for mom or dad, and the parties can avoid seeing each other.
4. Parents’ express their worst fears to each other about how their relationship with their children will change after divorce. Sometimes what a parent perceives as the other parent’s lack of interest in the kids is really that parent “giving up” trying to see their children because they can’t come to terms with seeing them for a restricted amount of time.
The one common denominator that mediation brings to the issue of parenting time is that parents keep communicating with each other while they are devising a parenting plan. Each has the opportunity to speak about their wishes and fears to the other parent. It’s a difficult new world that parents’ face in divorce – splitting the baby. But if they are able to plan it together, there is a greater likelihood that both parents will remain a strong presence in their children’s lives.