As many a child of divorce will tell you, a post-breakup plan that works for the kids and both parents can make all the difference. Long gone are the days of defaulting to mom having primary custody while dad gets every other weekend, holidays, and two weeks in the summer. Today, parents, the courts, and divorce attorneys are trying serve the best interests of the children by devising alternative parenting plans that are both creative and flexible.
How does a parenting plan differ from the custody agreement?
A parenting plan is an agreement detailing how the divorced parents will handle important decisions and choices when raising their child. The custody agreement addresses required issues of physical and legal custody. A parenting plan is broader, with more detail, often including agreements about matters such as a child’s routine, transportation from home to school or between parents, and how the parents will communicate with each other about the child.
Examples of alternative parenting arrangements
- Parallel parenting
Co-parenting, where divorced parents share decision-making responsibilities, gets a lot of attention these days, but it doesn’t work for everyone, particularly after a high-conflict divorce. Parallel parenting, derived from the childhood development concept of “parallel play,” envisions a plan where parents jointly parent the children but do so separately. An effective parallel plan limits the contact the parents have with each other. Making a plan like this work requires effort, notes licensed clinical social worker Terry Gaspard. Writing in the HuffPost Blog, Gaspard suggests that the parents name an intermediary who will facilitate communication; designate neutral, public spaces for drop-offs and pick-ups; and make use of a notebook that the children can pass between the parents.
- Bird’s nest co-parenting
In traditional parenting arrangements, children shuttle from one household to the other. In a “bird’s nest” arrangement, the children stay put, often in the original family home, and it’s the parents who come and go. Professor Edward Kruk, who teaches social work at the University of British Columbia, covered the topic of bird nesting for Psychology Today. He insists that a successful bird’s nest arrangement requires not only a detailed parenting plan but also parents who have ongoing, mutual respect for one another. While acknowledging that it won’t work in all situations, Kruk emphasizes the benefits for the children. “A bird’s nest arrangement is about ensuring that children’s lives are minimally disrupted, while the adults, who are theoretically more able to cope with the disruption, bear the brunt of the changes,” he writes.
- “Living” agreements
Sometimes the best plans, including parenting plans, are the most flexible. Flexibility, no matter the underlying plan, requires agreement. When parents develop a “living” agreement, one that evolves to meet the needs of the children as they grow and their lives change, everyone benefits. Such plans also require parents to be farsighted. “View time with your children in terms months and years not just hours, days and weeks,” suggests Robert E. Emery, author of Two Homes, One Childhood: A Parenting Plan to Last a Lifetime and a thought-leader on children and divorce.