Before you construct a parenting plan, don’t think about how many hours you are entitled to see the kids. Think about how to construct a plan that takes into account all the changes in the children’s lives that are going to occur post separation/divorce.
When constructing parenting plans with couples, the conversation with one parent sometimes goes like this:
Parent: “I want my kids 50% of the time, and I want to make sure they are going to be with me exactly 50%. I’m the parent and that’s the way it’s got to be.”
Mediator: “Okay, I understand you feel strongly about that. So tell me, what is your parenting time with your children going to be like?”
Parent: “Well, I only have a small apartment, but I want them to stay there and sleep over every other weekend, and a couple nights during the week.”
Mediator: “So when they are with you, do you plan to cook meals for them? Help them with their homework and take them out for activities?”
Parent: “Don’t worry, I’ll work that out.”
Mediator: “What about taking them to their soccer practice or their ballet lessons or the other activities they’re involved in.”
Parent: “Well, don’t worry, we’ll work that out.”
Mediator: “How do you think the kids are going to feel being away from their friends, and so far from their home, because you live a half an hour away?”
Parent: “Well, they’re going to have to get used to it, and make new friends where I live, because I want equal time with my kids.”
Mediator: “What about school? You want them to sleep at your home weekdays, so how are they going to get back and forth to school?”
Parent: “I haven’t thought of that yet, but I’m sure we can work that out.”
Am I exaggerating? Not really. In fact, I’ve heard it often enough to say, “You know, this plan really isn’t well thought out. I don’t think it is going to work.”
Parenting plans work when it’s not about 50% of the time. Kids don’t want to move from their primary living space, so it is really about how you can create a warm and welcoming environment in which the kids want to spend time. Also, the closer the parents live together, the easier it is on everybody.
Even though you have a well-thought out parenting plan, don’t be surprised if initially the kids are reluctant to follow it. You might have to phase the plan in, which means start with less time sharing and then eventually, when it’s working out well, increase the time they spend with you.
Sometimes for the first year following separation or divorce, there’s one schedule with less time sharing. By the second year, when everyone is a little more acclimated to the new separate living arrangements, there is a second schedule that allows for more time sharing.
So, who do you think should be at the center of your parenting plan – you or your kids?