All too often when I was representing children or parents in divorce court, I heard parents refer to scheduled parenting time as "my time." For example, a parent once complained to me that taking a child to dance class took away from his time with the child. Parents who thought of visitation or scheduled time as belonging to them were the norm, and not the exception. Here are some basic rules to help.
1. The purpose of visitation
What these parents failed to understand is that a parenting plan or visitation schedule is created for the benefit of the child. Spending time with both parents is a right given to the child. If visitation belongs to anyone, it belongs to the child.
2. Stop dividing, start sharing
It's very easy in a divorce or separation to get lost in the division of things. I get this; you get that; I want this; you want that. It starts to seem as though you are carving up every last piece of your life. When you work on creating a parenting plan, you are also dividing up time. Often parents get locked in a struggle over who will get more time with the child. Doing so loses sight of the fact that a child needs both parents. If both parents are fit and able to care for their child, a schedule should be created that concentrates on the child's needs, and shouldn't come down to fighting over who "wins."
A child does not need to be in the middle of a tug of war. Instead, parents should work out and live by a plan determined by the child's needs. Children need to be able to go to school, see both parents, participate in activities and events that are important to them, spend time with friends, and feel secure. How these needs play out into a schedule will vary for each child. Some children very much need the stability of living in one home during the school week – shuttling back and forth is not a sound choice for some kids. Other kids need frequent contact with the non-custodial parent. The key is to pay attention to what your child's needs are and build a schedule based on them.
3. Fit the pieces together
Parents have schedules, jobs and interests of their own and they most certainly need to be able to pursue those. Creating a parenting plan means fitting together the puzzle pieces of the interests of the people involved. The first consideration must be what the child needs. The second consideration should be the parents' schedules and needs. With this priority in mind, you can create a plan that benefits everyone.
Brette Sember is a former divorce and family attorney and mediator. She is the author of more than 30 books including "The Divorce Organizer & Planner," and "How to Parent with Your Ex." Her Web site is www.BretteSember.com.
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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
Distributed by MCT Information Services