In Florida we no longer use terms like “custody,” “visitation,” and “primary residential parent” which suggest that a child is a possession to be argued over. These terms mislead parents into thinking that ultimately one of them can win and the other can lose their children.
It is critical that divorcing parents understand that only their marriage is ending. In fact, their familial bond will remain long after the legal divorce is done. As the old adage goes blood is thicker then water. And, children have a special way of keeping people connected.
Every child needs and deserves two parents. So, divorcing parents should avoid the win/lose illusion and instead focus on how they will share time with their children and what each parent will be responsible for.
Here are ten things to consider before you decide on your family’s time-sharing and parenting plan.
1. Your family is unique. And, your family is undergoing restructuring. Be open to a variety of possibilities. Allow yourself to look at the big picture and focus on the needs of your children.
2. The time to work on feelings of betrayal and abandonment is not while you are making decisions related to time sharing with your children. Put these issues to the side and deal with them later.
3. Consider which parent is best able to undertake, manage and complete day-to-day parenting responsibilities such as shopping, homework, sick trips to the doctor, routine check-ups, playtime visits with friends, chauffeuring, daily hygiene and discipline. However, just as important as a parent’s ability to perform parenting responsibilities is his/her commitment to (a) encouraging the child’s relationship with the other parent, (b) conferring with the other parent and (c) keeping the other parent informed on all child related issues such as report cards, illnesses, and extra-curricular activities.
4. Consider your children’s connections to their communities and extended family members. Do all you can to keep these relationships consistent.
5. Your child’s primary residence and time-sharing arrangements are not permanent. As your children mature the arrangements you make should change to fit their lifestyles, needs and desires.
6. Consider the distance between your homes and the children’s school(s). How will this effect the morning and afternoon commutes, participation in school activities, playing with school friends after-school?
7. How can you best set your schedules in order to maintain consistency in your children’s bedtime, homework, bath, meals, activities etc. during school time.?
8. In an ideal world each parent would have some play time, some work time (carpooling, homework, etc.) and some alone time with each of their children.
9. Children should be expected to follow the rules of the household that they are in. Be consistent in your own house, with your own rules. If the other parent has different rules that is OK.
10. Babies and younger children may be best served by shorter times with each parent.