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By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT
One of the most important tasks in divorce is the creation of an agreement that describes the arrangement between parents and their minor children. This agreement is called a parenting plan. The plan addresses issues of custody and visitation. The courts, and common sense, suggest each plan needs to consider each child’s unique situation, including age, maturity, health needs, etc. The plan should consider both the existing schedules of the children and potential areas of conflict with schedules of parents. These are among the most difficult and challenging issues for parents to decide.
Most couples truly want what is best for their children but too often get stuck in positions that are usually based on fear regarding the changes the children will be facing and fear regarding the changing dynamics between the parents and children. Prior to the separation and divorce couples have an existing division of responsibilities with their children based on what it takes to make the household run. Post divorce one major change that occurs is that each parent assumes total responsibility for the children during their scheduled custodial time. This can be a challenge, especially for the parent who has previously been the primary caretaker.
One way to minimize conflicts is to use a “one month – twelve month” calendar. By taking the time to detail out a complete month’s schedule, followed by a year long schedule, parents can anticipate potential problems before they become conflicts by developing a realistic view. The calendar should accurately portray the current commitments family members’ work schedules, (including days and time), school schedules, extracurricular activities, holidays and rituals, and any other factors you can think of. Once you have a clear picture of the actual calendar, you may then begin to see a structure that makes sense in light of the schedule. The goal is to help parents avoid getting stuck in ideals rather than ideas. The responsibilities each parent has will change once the children are being taken care of in two homes. The change will create both opportunities and challenges for parents. A well prepared calendar can assist parents in identifying reasonable schedules. This in itself can be helpful in reducing the potential for future problems.
Finally, there should be a plan to resolve inevitable, unforeseen conflicts. Flexibility is the fuel for a successful plan. The best engineered automobile will sit idly without fuel. On the other hand, a well-engineered automobile, with a full tank, will go far with a smooth ride.