When a couple decides it is time to end their marriage, they must also come to a decision about child custody. This is often one of the most contentious battles couple will face in a divorce, despite knowing that it can cause irreparable damage to their children. What is best for the child should always be in the forefront of parents’ minds, even if the child’s best interests do not coincide with what they think they actually want.
Divorce Mediation Associates, Ltd., often helps parents create and then implement a parenting plan that works for everyone, and ensures their children have access to both parents. This dual access is a crucial part of a child’s development, as countless studies have proven, time and time again, that both parents being involved in all aspects of a young child’s life, after separation and divorce, is a critical part of their own health and happiness.
A consensus report on “equal parent” status and the benefits to young children
In 2014, a group of 110 researchers contributed to an article titled “Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report,” published by the American Psychological Association. There was broad consensus among social science professionals – like mental health professionals, behavioral experts, researchers, psychologists, doctors, etc. – that young children overwhelmingly benefit when their parents share “equal parent” status.
What is “equal parent” status? Broadly speaking, it is when two parents share equal time and responsibility for the care of their children. Basically, there are two types of custody:
- Legal, which concerns how decisions are made about schooling, medical care, religion, etc., and
- Physical, which concerns where the child resides and when.
Parents can either seek joint legal custody (wherein they make decisions together) and/or joint physical custody (wherein the child resides with both parents), or some combination of both. But some parents may choose to seek sole custody, which “means that one person retains responsibility for the care and control of a child and has primary authority to make decisions concerning the child.”
While there are times when “sole” custody is necessary, experts agree that co-parenting, in the form of joint custody, is what is best for young children. In fact, according to the findings presented by the APA, “A meta-analysis of 33 studies reported better emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning for children in joint physical custody compared to children in sole custody, regardless of the level of conflict between parents.” For a more in-depth look at this research, we encourage you to read the article in full.
Parenting plans help you co-parent more effectively
The general findings of the study are that parents who engage in non-adversarial processes, such as divorce mediation, are not only more likely to be more positive about co-parenting; they are also able to “manage conflict and reduce its negative impact on children” at the time of the separation or divorce, and into the future. A parenting plan is, generally speaking, a child custody plan that includes additional information such as:
- Who will make which decisions about the child’s education, doctors, places of worship, etc.
- How parents will communicate information about their child with one another
- Vacation schedules and emergencies that pop up along the way (such as a hospitalization of the parent or child, or a work-related function which interferes with the normal custody schedule)
- Which days the child will spend with which parent
These are some of the basic decisions outlined in a parenting plan. If the parents cannot reach those decisions themselves, the Court will make the decisions for them in what it thinks is the child’s best interests.
This is why divorce mediation is such a powerful tool and resource for parents. Our divorce mediators can help you craft a parenting plan that is unique and specific to your needs, and can address potential issues in ways that work best for you. It gives you more leeway – and therefore, more control – over how you both share your parenting responsibilities.
For example, the Court may decide that your child will spend every other Thanksgiving with you. However, let’s say that Thanksgiving is not as important a holiday to you as it is to your spouse, but Memorial Day is. Your parenting plan can allow for your spouse to see your child on Thanksgiving every year, but give you Memorial Day weekend with your child every year in return. A parenting plan might also outline specific time for non-immediate family members, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins: thus, your child will never have to miss Grandma’s birthday, or will be allowed to decide which parent he or she stays with in the event of a celebration or event.
These are the types of adjustments that we can help you address in your parenting plan from the beginning, so that you, your spouse and your child can have constructive input into the plan. You can be more creative or more flexible when you work together to draft a parenting plan that meets your particular needs.
Divorce Mediation Associates, Ltd. serves families throughout Northern Virginia. We help our clients create parenting plans that work for their family’s unique needs and circumstances, so that families can reach fulfilling resolutions. To learn more about our services, or to speak with an experienced divorce mediator, please call 703-665-7592, or fill out our contact form.