One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic are the major issues it is creating between divorced parents who are trying to co-parent their children. Many parents are either: 1) Sincerely concerned about children going back and forth between households or 2) See this as an opportunity to manipulate their custody order by unilaterally deciding to keep the children with them and denying the other parent their parenting time – and sometimes it’s difficult to tell which one is motivating their behavior. Attorneys and the courts have been bombarded with custody cases that need to be addressed and all at a time when the courts are completely shut down – leaving these parents with absolutely no recourse in the short-term because they failed to build a comprehensive, proactive parenting plan.
However, this doesn’t have to be the case. If parents invest in building a comprehensive, proactive parenting plan on the front-end, they are equipped to: 1) Focus on their children’s well-being 2) Find creative ways to deal with situations that arise and 3) Develop a pattern of goodwill that promotes flexibility and working together over knee-jerk, adversarial approaches to dealing with problems.
Can you Build a Parenting Plan that will Survive a Pandemic?
Some of you may think that I’m painting too rosy of a picture regarding the benefits of a mediated parenting plan so here’s my body of proof – in the two months we’ve been sheltering at home, I have not received one call or email from a past client regarding the other parent manipulating this situation. When you consider that over my 17 years as a mediator I’ve had close to 1,000 clients, this demonstrates the power of providing parents with structure and focus early on that enables them to effectively manage their strong negative emotions and keep their focus on their children’s long-term interests. Serendipitously, a focus on meeting the children’s needs often helps parents work through other divisive issues simply because they’re focused on their children’s best interests rather than on their conflicts and feelings about their soon to be ex.
How to Build a Parenting Plan that can Survive a Pandemic
So, how do we build a parenting plan that is comprehensive and proactive? Of course, there are a lot of elements, but some of the most important are:
- Providing clarity and specificity regarding how the parents will handle typical parenting issues both during and after the divorce.
- Nailing down as many details as possible helps the parents avoid constantly having to negotiating new issues (which at best leads to a strained parenting relationship and at worst leads to outright friction).
- Dealing with potential issues proactively, rather than reactively.
- Trying to de-escalate situations once they have exploded takes much more time and energy than proactively addressing issues that will more than likely come up at some point. An experienced mediator has dealt with these issues dozens of times and can proactively help the parties come up with a plan to address these issues before they go sideways and are laden with strong emotion.
- Structure + Flexibility = Resiliency
- It’s important to balance structure with adaptability. While we need to include enough detail so that both parents and children know what to expect, it’s also important to allow for real-world flexibility as changes arise. To accomplish this, my clients often utilize a Flexibility Clause in their parenting plan–“Any aspect of the parenting plan can be changed as long as both parents agree in advance.”—so that they can make necessary changes as needed as long as they both agree ahead of time.
Build a Parenting Plan to Invest in a more Peaceful Future
Working with divorcing clients to build a parenting plan that is comprehensive and customized to their children’s needs—and provides the sense of order and consistency that children crave—does take some time. We can help you build a parenting plan in just 1 or 2 two-hour sessions. Creating a plan is an investment in reduced conflict for the remainder of a coparenting relationship (with young children it could easily be 10 – 15 years before they graduate from high school). It is also an investment not only in the well-being of their children, but also in minimizing/avoiding future mediation and/or attorney fees – less than 1% of my clients ever return to mediation after their divorce is finalized because they are so well-equipped with a combination of goodwill and specific structures to deal with issues that come up.
If you want to build a parenting plan that will last, specific aspects of comprehensive parenting plans are covered in this three-part Davis Mediation YouTube video series, “Fundamental Elements of a Good Parenting Plan.”