The decision to divorce is an adult decision made by the two spouses in the relationship. It is rarely an easy or uncomplicated decision. There are many questions to be answered, many disagreements to be settled. Yet as complex a situation as is a divorce between two adults, it is far more involved when the couple has children. Now the decision-making must be focused outward. The couple will always be parents; they will always have to interact in some way. The central question is how will this interaction be structured? How will this couple decide to parent their children both individually and jointly? No matter how a couple may approach questions involving parenting after divorce, the answers are never easily derived.
This article hopes to shed some light on the hard questions that need to be asked and the fact gathering to be undertaken in order to help couples reach decisions that will enable them to reach custody agreements with reason and not rancor.
Actively Involved Parents
Let’s start with two parents who participated actively in their children’s lives. Each one is a great parent, albeit in different ways. Now at the cusp of divorce they both proclaim that, as a parent, “for the stability of the children, for the continuity of care,” each one should be named as the primary residential parent. One parent boasts of having provided the bulk of the daily oversight—the carpooling, the school visits, the doctor appointments, and on and on. The other parent also has a list—the homework help and the project oversight, the coaching of teams, the bandaging of the cuts and bruises and on and on.
Without further argument, let’s admit that each one is a great parent; each one has different roles, each one is loved by the children and each one loves them. Why debate the obvious? Yet what happens now? Where do we go with this information? Clearly a court battle will not be helpful or even productive. Clearly a battle between partisan attorneys will not be helpful and maybe not even productive. If one parent emerges from either fight as victorious, the other will always feel victimized. This is hardly a formula for future parenting.
Here’s where mediation is, without question, the vehicle of choice. The most important questions to be tackled are:
Thus, as we approach custodial decision making, we need to focus first on the positive, not on which parent is better or needed more or loved more—this kind of narrow posturing only leads to more problems and more complications. We need to capitalize on what each parent can and will do to complement the other. And second, we need to incorporate reality—time constraints and financial constraints into shaping the custodial paradigm. Let’s look at some hard questions:
Custodial Agreements & Parenting Plans
The creation of a custodial agreement and parenting plan is hard work; it requires separating each parent’s individual wants and needs from the central question of what will work best for the children. How do we, as a parenting couple, provide our children with the best we can give to them? How do we, as parents, work together to demonstrate, in word and in deed, that we will always be parents together, even after divorce? Mediation offers couples the opportunity to problem solve together, to create a plan which rewards flexibility but also provides the necessary predictability and structure for all family members to move forward—separately and together.
Former Executive Vice-President and General Counsel to The Walt Disney Company, entertainment law heavy-weight Lou Meisinger (now Judge Meisinger thank you very much) gave me the best impasse-breaking advice ever....By Victoria Pynchon