Separated, divorced and never-married parents often face the daunting task of creating a parenting plan for their children. Where do they start? Here is some straightforward, expert advice from the Florida AFCC Parenting Plans Taskforce to help the entire family through this very important process.
1. There Is No “One Size Fits All” Parenting Plan --
Parenting plans should be constructed to meet the unique needs of each family and each family member.
2. Children’s Developmental Needs Must Be Considered --
Children of different ages need and benefit from different parenting arrangements. Parenting plans need to include time-sharing arrangements that reflect children’s developmental needs and individual requirements as much as possible. As children get older, these time-sharing arrangements will need to be more flexible.
3. Children Grow and Families Change --
A good parenting plan takes into account developmental changes as children grow as well as life cycle events that will occur in the lives of their parents. Parenting plans should not be static, and should anticipate the need for adjustments to the parenting plan in order to avoid potential conflict when these changes occur.
4. The Best Parent Is Two Parents
-- When parents construct their plans, it expresses their acknowledgement that both parents, whenever reasonably possible, are important to their children. Children retain the feeling of family when they have pleasant, free access to both parents as well as extended families. The best plan allows ample time for each parent to develop meaningful ongoing relationships with their children.
5. Maximize Relationships --
The disruptive effect of divorce or parental separation can have profound consequences for children. Children are likely to feel more secure and experience less disruption in their lives when allowed to remain in safe, consistent, supportive, and familiar environments. A good parenting plan encourages the relationships that existed between children and others that were established before the divorce or parental separation.
6. Minimize Loss --
Children often experience a series of significant losses as a result of their family’s changing structure. They may lose their home, familiar schools, access to friends, access to extended family members, regular contact with a pet, and daily access to a parent. Parenting plans that anticipate these changes and minimize losses for their children can be very beneficial.
7. Protect Children from Conflict --
It is well documented that children are harmed when they are exposed to the conflict between their parents. A good parenting plan builds in structures and safeguards to avoid children’s exposure to parental discord. Some parenting plans may help increase the level of cooperation between parents and other plans may specify the use of an outside party or “intermediary” if parents are unable to resolve their parenting disputes without exposing the children to conflict. Plans can also include that a specific mechanism such as counseling, mediation, and parenting coordination be attempted to resolve issues before parents resort to court action.
8. Protect Children’s Feelings and Promote Their Sense of Well-Being
-- Children are harmed when they hear one parent say bad things about the other parent. A child’s identity is tied to being a product of both parents and their extended families. Parenting plans that build in children’s rights to love both parents without fear of reprisal and eliminates blame helps keep children out of loyalty binds and minimizes their feelings of guilt for their parent’s separation.
9. Parenting Style, Gender, and Culture Makes a Difference
-- Each parent has different and valuable contributions to make to their children’s lives. Parenting plans that acknowledge and respect differences in parenting style, the need for gender development for each child, and the importance of maintaining cultural norms helps promote healthy development and a sense of continuity for children.
10. Communication is Essential
-- Communication and cooperation between parents is important. Consistent rules and routines in both households and sharing of knowledge of events create a sense of security for children of all ages. Parenting plans should specify a detailed plan for constructive and effective communication between parents about the children.
*The information contained here was created by The FLAFCC Parenting Plans Taskforce: Debra K. Carter, Ph.D., Chairperson; Michelle Artman-Smith, Esq.; Eric Bruce, Esq.; Linda Fieldstone, M.Ed.; Hon. Diana Moreland; Jack Moring, Esq.; Roxanne Permesly, LMHC; Laurie Pine-Farber, LCSW; Magistrate Lee Schreiber; Deborah Silver, Psy.D.; Robert Silver, Ph.D.; Nina Zollo, Esq. FLAFCC is the Florida Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, and is also available online at www.afccnet.org