Traditionally, child custody plans called for children to live with their mother during the week and spend alternating weekends with their father. In more recent history, an equal, 50/50 custody plan has grown to become the standard for many divorced families. These more traditional plans were preferred, in part, because it was assumed kids needed more stability — that splitting time between two households would cause undue stress to children.
But a one-size-fits-all custody plan simply doesn’t work for many of today’s families. And, what’s more, recent research suggests that having regular contact with both parents is more important than the stability found in the previous setup. And we now know that a child’s needs change over time.
That’s why the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers sought to establish a new model to assist parents, judges, lawyers, mediators and parent educators in drafting custody plans that are child-centered.
The new model, titled the “Child Centered Residential Guidelines,” is less a one-size-fits-all system and more about coming up with a “best results” plan based on the family’s circumstances and the child’s age. Download a PDF of the guidelines here, and make sure you find a divorce lawyer who references these during your divorce or dissolution.
In the meantime, know that knowledge is not only power, it’s also peace of mind. The more you can educate yourself on what options you might have for a child custody plan, the easier and less stressful the divorce and/or dissolution process will be.
Under these new guidelines, the first step when choosing a parenting plan calls for both parents to think through considerations like their relationship to each child, the child’s age, temperament, and maturity, the distance between households, and the parents’ work schedules.
The guidelines also include tips for situations like long-distance parenting, histories of domestic violence or mental illness, incarcerated parents, military parenting, same-sex parenting and more.
In other words, every family is different. Instead of simply rubber-stamping the same custody plan in every case, the better way forward is to think through your family’s specific circumstances and needs. Then you can start thinking through which custody plan might work best for your situation. And remember, just because a particular custody arrangement worked for a friend of a friend doesn’t mean it will work for you.
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The new guidelines, perhaps most helpfully of all, contain sample parenting schedules broken down by age (0-9 months, 24 months to 3 years, 3-5 years old, 6-9 years old, 10-12 years old, and 13-18 years old), with special considerations for what your child might be experiencing and going through at each interval.
For instance, during the first nine months of a child’s life, attachments start to take root; as the child learns that his or her needs will be met, trust forms. For this reason, frequent contact with each parent is important, including opportunities for caretaking, like feeding, playing, soothing, and bathing.
The suggestions for children between the ages of 10 and 12 years old, meanwhile, take into consideration the child’s growing independence and sense of equality.
A child this age might be more sensitive to making sure he or she is being fair with each parent in terms of the time they’re spending together, but they’re also prone to aligning with one parent over the other. And, of course, these pre-teens are also often busy with activities and friendships, whether its sports, youth group meetings or scouts.
At this age, parents could work out alternating weeks or weekends, or even longer visits when school’s out.
(If you need to update your existing custody plan to take some of these guidelines into account, we can help with that, too. Get started by reading this blog post about changing your child custody plan.)
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As the guidelines note, children do best when parents get along and communicate, regardless of your child custody plan. That could mean making a compromise with your ex to ensure his or her needs are met in the custody plan also.
But this commitment to harmony also carries over into your relationship with your ex after the custody plan is agreed upon.
In other words, honoring your ex’s time with his or her child by communicating schedule changes is important, as is showing up on time and with the kids ready when it’s time to exchange.
If you’re going through a divorce or find yourself needing a new custody plan, contact the Columbus divorce lawyers at Babbitt & Dahlberg today. We have the experience to guide you through this difficult process, and we know that begins by first talking with you about your priorities and your child’s needs. Give us a call today at 614-228-4200 or fill out our quick online form to schedule a consultation.