Dynamics of Divorce Carl A. Moss MS LMHC Psychotherapist.
Divorce Coach. 561-347-6772
CHILDREN AND DIVORCE - SOME HELPFUL INFORMATION FOR YOU.
It is often said that parents are asked to make important decisions regarding their children at a time when they are emotionally least able to. This can be during the divorce process. This information will help you make responsible and informed decisions regarding the co-parenting of your children. However it is not a replacement for retaining my services in this difficult time in your life.
How your child responds to Divorce:
Feelings of emotional security are dependent on getting their needs met and on the emotional state of each parent. Infants sense anger and tenseness.
3 ½ -5 Year Old:
They tend to think in terms of themselves and their immediate needs. They seem to be connected with the “here and now” and believe the world revolves around them, resulting in a sense of “power” they also frequently blame themselves for the divorce.
Example: “If I were good, mommy and daddy would not fight”. May return to earlier behavior patterns(regress psychology), such as wet the bed, have difficulty sleeping, turn more to such things as security blankets, have toilet training problems, may withdraw, detach themselves from the absent parent in order to protect themselves from the pain of loss.
They may act out and withdraw when returning from seeing the non-residential parent because they undergo the experience of separation anxiety again.
5 & 6 Years Old:
Tend to deal primarily with the here and now; but however some kids may regress in behavior in ways similar to the younger child; can over worry and wonder about the immediate future, Parents, therefore, need to be specific when answering questions concerning .
A healthy way to communicate in a way to calm their anxiety could be as follows, “Mom/Dad will pick you up at 11:00 after Sesame Street and will bring you home at 5:00 after Mr. Rogers”.
6 -10- Years Old:
Have more of a tendency to think ahead (predict) as well as think back; this way of thinking can create anxiety and sadness. They sometimes want to assume more responsibility for the family and may attempt to reunite the parents. They are more likely to show of their intense anger.
They may become demanding and dictatorial and may scold siblings and either or both parents. May feel fearful, powerless and unsure of their place in the world; school performance may drop; there may be petty stealing (usually an attempt to bring back what is lost); need much needed SUPPORT from parents & significant others
Some typical questions:
Will I still have my friends? My room? My toys ? And will I still go to the same school?
: They may not want to go to school; may have stomach or headaches because they are afraid mom/dad will also be gone when they get home.
Are perfectionists and want their parents to be perfect; must begin to come to terms with the conflicts between the idealized and more realistic parental figures, which can be very painful; are aware of the reality of divorce; may not want to be involved in parents’ arguments; worry about money in terms of specifics.
Example: “Will I still be able to buy a car? New clothes? Go to college?” What will my marriage be like? Will it last?” They are more aware of sexual feelings, they are feeling more stress in regards to their awareness of parents’ sexuality.
- Each child has the right to have two parents to love each without fear of anger/hurt from the other.
- Each child has the right to develop an independent and meaningful relationship with each parent and to respect the personal difference of each parent and each home.
- Each child has the right to be free from being present during the parents’ personal battles or being used as a spy, a messenger, or bargaining chip.
- Each child has the right to enjoy Mother’s family and Father’s family and to see each of the families as being different from each other and to not have these differences referred to as better” or “worse”.
- Each child has the right to not be questioned about the other parent’s private life.
- Each child has the right to not have to hear parents speak ill of each other, nor have to hear about the difficulties with the other parent.
- Each child has the right to see his/her parents as being courteous and respectful to each other.
- Each child has the right to develop and maintain his/her age appropriate activities and friends without fear of losing time with a parent.
- Each child has the right to his/her roots which include grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.
- Each child has the right to be a Child; to be free from parents’ guilt, to not assume adult and/or parent roles.
Common Questions Parents ask about Children and Divorce
What should I tell my children?
An example could be to tell them this:
Mommy is moving to Grandpas house. We are going to be safe, it is not your fault and you have a mommy and a daddy that love you very much.
Predictability leads to stability in a child’s life Children want to know “What will happen to me?”
Should we tell the children why we are divorcing?
Always remember to tell the children it is not their fault, and that they are loved. It is not healthy to blame the other spouse – that only puts the child/ren in the middle. One option is to say this is not your fault. You have a mommy and daddy that love you and you are going to be OK. Make up a truthful rational statement that works for your situation that you can use over and over again as your child will ask about the divorce often, Remember; this is YOUR divorce, not your children’s.
- Do my child/ren need counseling? Questions to ask yourself:
- What behaviors in your child/ren indicate that counseling is needed?
- Is the child/ren’s behavior inappropriate or is yours (parents)?
- Is the purpose of the counseling to change the child/ren’s behavior or your behavior; GOOD OPTION – friendship circles at school or divorce groups for children in which a child can relate to his/her peers and be aware that he/she is not the only person going through this. If individual counseling is indicated. BOTH parents need to be involved, an hour in the counselor’s office is too readily undone by parental discord at home.
- I often find it is more helpful to provide psychotherapy and/or divorce coaching to the parent than the child.
- What makes some Child/ren do poorly?
Fear of poverty
Fear of abandonment (“if one parent left me, maybe the other one will”).
Child/ren assuming the burden of keeping peace
Parents placing adult issues on “little” shoulders
Child/ren becoming parent to a parent
Children assuming the burden of making a parent “happy”
Parents failure to set limits with child/ren. A Child/ren need boundary which keeps them secure. Unfortunately, during divorce, child/ren receive less parenting at a time when they most need it.
What about Parents Dating: Do you mean going out on a date, or do you mean involving the child/ren in the relationship with that other person? Please use discretion.
Children need a little time to adjust to the change in having parents in separate homes.
Children many times express concern that they will be “forgotten” when attention is given to the new boy/girlfriend.
Child/ren frequently have little time with a parent…sometimes sharing that time is difficult.
Here are some things stated in children’s therapy sessions.
- “I’m afraid my parents will stop loving me, so I’ll tell my Mom what I think she wants to hear and I’ll tell my Dad what I think he wants to hear. That way, I’ll make them each happy and they will both love Me.
- “My parents hate each other so much…maybe they’ll hate me soon too”.
- “If I wasn’t here, my parents wouldn’t fight”.
- “My Mom says my Father is no good, my Father says my Mother is no good, I guess I am no good”.
- “Can’t somebody make my parents stop saying bad things about each other to me?”
- “I don’t want to have to choose between my Mom and Dad”.
Residential Parent – Non-Residential Parent
For many a residential parent, the overload can be overwhelming. “Get the children ready for school, get ready for work, make sure the homework is done, get the children to their activities, do the laundry, discipline the children, clean the house, do the grocery shopping, cook the dinner, clear up, get the children bathed and in bed.
For many non-residential parents there are also pressures that seem insurmountable at times. “Get to work, pay the child support, wish you could kiss the kids goodnight, and wonder if you can take your son to the ball game Saturday even though it is not your day to be with him, dealing with loneliness.
The reality is: each situation has its specific problems; however parents can work cooperatively so that your needs as well as the needs of your children are met.
Regardless of whose home your children reside, your children need each of you.
PROVIDING your children with the opportunity to develop an independent and meaningful relationship with each of you is a difficult task when there is a divorce, and it takes time and work.
ALL parents are different and are not able to provide in the same manner at the same time, and children have different needs from each parent in various stages of their lives.
Responsibilities to Consider for Primary Place of Residence
- Willingness to act in your children’s best interest; their needs are frequently different from the needs of the parents.
- Ability to separate your needs from the needs of your children.
- Ability and availability to manage and undertake and complete day-to-day parenting responsibilities: shopping, homework, child’s sickness, playtime, chauffeuring, daily hygiene, discipline, medical and dental visits.
- Willingness to keep non-residential parent informed of children’s progress reports, report cards, illnesses; willingness to consult with non-residential parent before making decisions regarding children’s health, education, well-being.
- Willingness to allow and encourage children to have relationship with other parent.
Step Parents (Also applicable for the boyfriend or girlfriend)
Please contact me for a specific separate program regarding step parenting.
Although your child may be fond of the person you are dating, when your marriage to that person is finalized, your child may become angry. Keep in mind that your child may be experiencing the reality of Now Mom and Dad will never get back together.”
The following is important information for step parents or potential step parents to review:
- Go slowly. Children by nature want to liked.
- Stay out of the divorce. Be a listener. Do not add fuel to a fire that is already smoldering.
- Don’t try to change your child’s relationship with his natural parents. There are times when a step parent has to take a back seat. Recognize each other’s roles so children are not caught in the middle.
- Give your child permission to love both parent and step parent. A conflict children have is “If I like my stepfather, can I like my father too?”
- Be an adult friend rather than a mother or father. Lend the child support but don’t be overpowering in terms of parenting aspects.
- Try to establish effective communication with the child’s natural parent.
- Respect differences in histories and in households.
- Before remarrying have a few counseling or parent coaching sessions with an experienced professional expert. You can contact me at 561-347- 6772 if you need help finding one.
- Do not encourage the use of the word Mom and Dad or its equivalent to anyone other than the natural parent.
- Dating and Adult Relationships: It is important for children to know that adults have friends just as they do. Some guidelines to consider:
- Give your child time to adjust to Mom and Dad not living together
- Remember Children frequently view the boyfriend or girlfriend as a
- replacement of the parent
- Go slowly.
- Do take time to be with your child without the boyfriend or girlfriend.
Divorced Parents Responsibilities: Include
Developing a workable plan that gives Children access to both parents. If you want the respect and love of your children, you must allow them to respect and love the other parent. This means encouraging visitation with the other parent.
Reassuring children they can still count on both parents. Avoid the temptation to turn the children against the other parent. This is cruel and thoughtless and results in a loss of respect by the child for both parents. Become aware of the damage caused by parental alienation.
Keeping constant contact with the children so they don’t feel rejected or abandoned.
Providing and maintaining telephone contact with the children.
Having children ready on time for the other parent.
Being home to receive the children on time.
Calling the other parent when it is necessary to be late.
Rarely canceling plans with children.
Keeping parental communication lines open to constructively resolve problems concerning the children.
Each parent establishing a home for the children with a place for their belongings. (Clothes, books, etc.) Children will want to keep stuff at both homes; they will show subtle signs of nesting activities.
Do not include
Pumping children for information about the other parent.
Trying to control the other parent.
Using the children to deliver child support payments.
Using the children to carry messages back and forth.
Arguing in front of the children.
Speaking derogatorily about the other parent.
Asking the children with whom they want to live.
Putting the children in the position of having to take sides.
Economics of Divorce
Please remember I am not giving you legal advice I am sharing information with you. I am a Psychotherapist not an attorney.
Very simply stated divorce is usually costly. In most marriages, there are two people working to maintain one home. Following the divorce the same two people are working to maintain homes. – Same income—two homes.
When the divorce is finalized in court, there remains the ongoing issue of child support.
Child support has long been a source of hostility between parents. Anger over the amount of child support, the timeliness of the payments, and the appropriateness of its use has caused many a “battle” both in and out of court.
In Florida, both parents provide emotionally and financially for their children. Child support is based on the combined net income of both parents with each parent contributing a percentage of the combined net monthly income.
Children have a right to receive support and children also have a right to share time with each parent. If a parent does not pay his/her share of support, the child suffers; if the parent then withholds visitation, the child suffers twice as much.
- DO separate parenting issues from money issues
- DO talk to your child about his/her fear of not being adequately cared for.
- DO be sensitive to your child’s loyalty to both parents.
- DO NOT put your child in the position of asking for child support payments
- DO NOT burden your child with problems he/she cannot control or solve.
COMMENTS I HAVE HEARD FROM CHILDREN
- “My Dad rents me once a week.”
- “My mom took my entire dad’s money and now he can’t afford to see me.”
- “How come my friend John is worth more than me?” (This child new that John’s child support payments were larger than his)
These comments illustrate the conclusions children reach when they overhear a parent’s inappropriate comments about child support. Do be careful in discussing any issues, including money, which should not be overheard by children.
PLEASE BE A RESPONSIBLE PARENT. CHILDREN HAVE A RIGHT TO BE SUPPORTED BOTH FINANCIALLY AND EMOTIONALLY!
Too often as a result of the divorce process, the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is severed thus preventing the children from furthering knowledge concerning his/her genes, roots, historic family traditions, etc.
Parents have the primary obligation to fulfill the needs of their children. This may at times conflict with grandparents’ wants. Respect and understanding of each other’s obligations and wants as well as the children’s needs, is important.
Grandparents want to have the opportunity to share their learned experience with their grandchildren, providing them with the guidance and support. Parents want the right to make the final decision regarding the needs of their children.
Parents frequently do not have time to relax and enjoy their own children. They are busy working to earn a living, maintaining the home, tending to the children’s homework, activities, dentists, doctors, etc. Many grandparents are retired and have a lot of free time in which to spend with their grandchildren.
Grandparents enjoy “spoiling” their grandchildren. It is an understood privilege that comes with the passage into “grand parenthood.” Parents want to maintain order and control over their children... It is an understood necessity that comes with the passage into “parenthood.”
Parents and younger people in general, tend to live in the here and now as it relates to the future. Grandparents and older people in general, tend to live in the here and now as it relates to the past. It is this combination that provides continuity to life for grandchildren.
The loss of a child, no matter what age, is significantly more traumatic than the loss of a spouse. For the grandparent, it represents the loss of a part of one’s self, one’s flesh and blood, one’s, future through heritage. This cannot be replaced. The parent’s ability to find a new mate and move on in life is frequently misunderstood.
Grandparents want to maintain traditions, particularly on holidays and religious occasions. Frequently, parents have developed new traditions which are more comfortable with their current lives and marriages.
Please consider how each generation may feel and what they may want. Grandparents—remember the privileges, and responsibilities you experienced as a parent. Parents –imagine how you would like your life to be as a grandparent.
Working together, you can ensure the rights of the grandchildren.
- To enjoy the relationship of both parent and grandparent without fear of reprisal from one or the other.
- To not be under stress to fulfill parent and grandparent needs and wants regarding time spent with each.
- To have time with their peers, to pursue their hobbies, to participate in social and extracurricular activities.
- To not be used as a tool in family warfare.
- The right to ROOTS, HERITAGE, and TRADITION set forth by the grandparents.
- The right to GROW with one’s parents; to partake in new LEARNINGS and EXPERIENCES with one’s mother/father.
- It is a wonderful idea to write a story about the life and history of them family and to give it as a gift when the children become an appropriate age. The emotional response to letters sent by snail mail can also be comforting.
Time Sharing Guidelines
In many states parent child access or time-sharing guidelines have been set forth to ensure children of their right to a frequent, meaningful, and continuing relationship with both of their parents. The age defined guidelines listed are general “rules of thumb” and should incorporate the following considerations:
The amount of prior contact between the non-residential parent and the child.
The non-residential parent’s willingness to become actively involved in the caretaking of the child.
The geographical proximity between the Mother’s and Father’s residence.
The parents’ availability and work schedule, the child’s activity schedule
Infants, Babies (birth to eighteen months).
The younger the child the shorter but more frequent the visits.
Familiarity is important. Refrain from frequent environmental changes;
Try not to leave child with unfamiliar caretaker.
Maintain consistency in physical caretaking, scheduling naps, feeding time, type of formula, etc.
Overnights may be appropriate depending on amount of contact between parent and child and sleeping accommodations (crib)
Toddlers (eighteen months to three years):
Maintain continuity and routine, usual bedtime hour, eating routines and toilet training methods Overnights and weekday access is appropriate for the actively involved parent
Preschoolers (Three to five years):
Predictability is very important
Overnights and two night weekends may be fine in addition to weekday visits
One week blocks of time in summer and during school vacations are fine for most children
In order to prevent separation anxiety, the child needs frequent assurances as to when he/she will see the other parent
School-Age (Six to twelve years):
Overnights during school week may be fine as long as reasonable bed time, homework time and a sense of responsibility is maintained
May spend extended time with non-residential parent during summer/school breaks, maintaining some contact with other parent pending length of time away
Children benefit from having both recreational, as well as responsible (car pooling, homework, etc.) Time with each parent
Adolescence (Thirteen to seventeen years):
May want reduction in visitation time- respect their need to socialize and become independent
Allow teenager’s input into visitation schedule
Predictable & consistent pattern with flexibility based on your teenager’s activities as well as your own
When there is more than one child, having some individual time may be important. Allow sufficient time when returned home for the child to “unwind” and prepare for the next school day. Longer periods away require more time for the child to “reconnect” with family and friends.
The Long Distant Parent
There are occasional situations in which a parent relocates, and bridging the distance between parent and child can be a problem. The following are some ideas that may help in bridging the distance.
WATCH T.V. “TOGETHER” That is, find out your child’s favorite T.V. programs and begin watching some so you can discuss what you see. It is especially nice if your child knows you are watching the same program at the same time.
KEEP UP WITH SCHOOL Furnish your child with large stamped manila envelopes (pre-addressed) so your youngster can send some of his/her school work to you. Make a point to meet your child’s teacher when possible, or at least arrange to talk with the teacher via telephone so the teacher is aware of your interest in your child. Provide the teacher with your telephone number and address. Let your child know of your contact with his/her teacher.
GET IT ON TAPE MP3 AND
SKYPE How about a talking letter? Most children have access to computers, mp3 players, and you can even tell a good night story on one or “read” a short book with your child “reading” along with you.
REMEMBER SMALL EVENTS Children enjoy receiving mail. Don’t forget those delightful Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day cards.
SHOW INTEREST IN YOUR CHILD Children respond more readily to specifics. Rather than ask “What did you do in school this week – or today?” ask “Tell me two new words you learned to spell” – “Who did you play with at recess?” When you ask age appropriate specific questions, you will have something to build on at the next telephone talk.
Shared Parental Responsibility
The concept of shared parental responsibility provides a framework for effective co-parenting.
Remember this is not legal advice as I am a Mental Health Counselor some information that has been told to me includes the following.
Florida Law F.S. 61 046 (11) defines shared parental responsibility as a court ordered relationship in which BOTH parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities with respect to their child, and in which BOTH parents confer with each other, so that major decisions affecting the welfare of the child will be determined jointly.
Most frequently asked questions regarding Shared Parental Responsibility:
DOES SHARED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY MEAN THE CHILDREN WILL DIVIDE THEIR TIME EQUALLY WITH EACH PARENT? NO. Living arrangements, time with each parent, and the responsibility each parent will have at a particular time area all separate issues to be determined by the parent or the court.
DOES SHARED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY MEAN WE WILL BE IN CONSTANT CONTACT WITH EACH OTHER? NO. If the rules are established ahead of time, there is no need for constant contact.
DOES SHARED PARENTL RESPONSIBILITY MEAN WE HAVE TO AGREE ON EVERYTHING? NO. Even in the best of marriages, parents do not agree on everything. It is possible to set down the ground rules in your agreement as to WHAT decisions will be jointly made and the process you will use in making these decisions.
DOES SHARED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY MEAN “HE/SHE IS MY CHILD, JUST AS MUCH AS YOURS, THEREFORE, I CAN DO WHAT I WANT?” NO. Again, even in marriages, parents seldom “just do what they want to” regarding the children. Most have devised a system of communication that lets each other know of plans, problems, etc.
IS SHARED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR EVERYONE? NO. It is for most; however there are some parents who are unable or unwilling to recognize the needs of the children and who use this as a means to continue the marital battles. “Sole parental responsibility,” which the court may order, means that responsibility for a minor child is gen to one parent by the court, with or without rights of visitation for the other parent. A court may award sole parental responsibility for a minor child only if it finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.
The court must consider evidence of spousal abuse as evidence of detrimental effect on the child. If the court determines that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child, and it finds that such abuse has occurred, it may award sole parental responsibility to the abused spouse and make such arrangements for visitation as will best protect the child and the abused spouse from further harm.
HOW TO MAKE SHARED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY WORK FOR YOU
Making shared parental responsibility work for you is really NOT difficult. The less detailed your agreement or court order, the more contact you will need with each other. Each family is unique in the way it functions. Since each parent is also unique in the way he/she functions, it is important to write down the rules that will best suit the needs of your particular situation. Below are a few common concerns with possible solutions.
WE DO NOT AGREE ON DISCIPLINE. What can we do?
This should not be a “right way” or “wrong way” issue. Each parent shall maintain his/her own rules of discipline while the children are with him/her. Neither parent shall undermine the other parent’s rules and discipline. However in my practice I try to have parents use a parenting program that they both agree. I often will write one specific to the Family. Every Family is different but I have never failed in being able to provide a program that works.
An important note at this point is that I much prefer to use the word Consequence over the word discipline.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR INFORMATION REGARDING REPORT CARDS, SCHOOL ACTIVITIES, AND EXTRA CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES? BOTH OF YOU!
DO I HAVE TO LET MY EX-SPOUSE KNOW EVERY TIME THE CHILDREN ARE ILL?
YES, this will vary according to the ages of the children. “Each parent shall keep the other advised of any illness requiring medical attention. Each parent shall have access to the child in the event of hospitalization, or prolonged illness at home.”
CHILDREN’S ACTIVITIES. Can my ex-spouse enroll them in an activity without consulting me? Children benefit most from activities when they know that both parents are supportive; therefore, consulting with each other is important.
Questions you each need to ask yourself:
- What does my child enjoy?
- When is the activity available?
- How will he/she get there?
- Are there any other options? When? One parent may take the decision regarding the children’s activities during the school year; the other parent may make the decision for the summertime activities. If it is difficult for you to separate your role as a parent versus ex spouse you may wish to seek professional help from an experienced mental health professional.
SHARED PARENTING: IT’S THE LAW
Children are our most precious resource. We must protect them from undue hurt and turmoil. Divorce and post-divorce proceeding s can be painful. Divorce is a major personal crisis for adults and children. The stress can produce physical symptoms as well as behavioral and emotional problems. Children of different ages may react differently to divorce – from irritability in infants to drug use in adolescents. Recognizing the signs of trouble early and helping children deal with them may prevent serous future problems.
The Old Law
Under the law prior to July 1, 1982, one parent got custody of the child. Custody meant the right and responsibility to make all decisions affecting the child. The parents without custody had no legal right to take part in the decisions about the child’s upbringing. Under the current law, when a couple goes before the court to dissolve their marriage, the judge listens to what each parent wants, considers all information provided, and decides whether to order shared parental responsibility or (in special situations), sole parental responsibility based on what is best for the child.
Shared parenting is a positive alternative for handling the restructure of a divorced family however; shared parenting is not for everyone. When there is an issue of child abuse or family violence or continuing parental conflict, the court may find that it is not in the best interest of the child to pursue this structure.
Florida’s shared parenting law offers the children of divorce an opportunity not given in the past. While their parents’ marriage may be dissolved by law, their relationship with each parent may continue to grow.
The New Shared Parenting Law
The aim of the shared parenting law (F.S.61.13) is to allow both parents to continue making decisions about their children even after the marriage is over. These decisions include: education, religion, medical and dental safety, social and moral development, transportation, vacations and holidays. Remember, your children have a right to expect both parents to attend important life events like graduations, weddings and grandchildren. The shared parenting law helps make this possible.
Access for Parents
Lawmakers wanted to ensure that children will have frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Even though one parent may be named primary residential parent, both parents have equal rights and responsibilities under the new law.
Access for Grandparents
For the first time, the law specifically recognizes the rights of grandparents to visit their grandchildren after the marriage is over.
Access to Records
People outside the family, like teachers and doctors, must be aware that the children of divorced parents need the continuing care of both parents. Therefore, the new law requires that doctors and schools allow both parents to see records and reports about their children.
The Emotional Toll of Divorce
Although the new problems may seem overwhelming initially, within one or two years most children have adjusted to their new situation. During this period, a supportive family who recognize the trouble signs can help their children get through this difficult time.
Help Is Available
There may at times be a need for professional help if parents have difficulty coping or if any problems become too disruptive or long lasting. Professionals who may be helpful include the family physician, school counselor, community resource groups, and clergy and family counselors such as myself.
The Shared Parenting Agreement
Although the marital relationship is ending, the responsibilities and privileges of being a parent go on, and the child is entitled to a continuing relationship with each parent.
A shared parenting agreement can be a useful tool in creating a plan for the changed family situation. A carefully planned agreement allows family members to decide what will be best for their special needs – and can save time, money and unnecessary legal delays.
An effective plan clearly states the agreement of the parents about: where the child lives, when the child lives with each parent, contact and access with the child for the other parent; daily decision making; emergency decision making; financial contribution; health care, and decisions about education, moral values formation, medical and dental care, social, recreation, legal responsibilities, religious training, travel and transportation, removal of the child from the state, communication , the method to clear up family problems that arise, and other concerns that a particular family may need to agree upon.
It is important that the spirit of cooperation and flexibility between parents remain the center of attention, rather than the rules of the written agreement. However, the agreement defines the basic areas of responsibility and acts as a safety net if communication breaks down between parents.
The following is a sample agreement created by family lawyers of The Florida Bar. It can be used as-is or modified to meet specific family needs. Even if you are not ready to formulate such an agreement, the sample agreement provides a starting point for discussions about how divorce will affect the family and potential problems that will have to be resolved.
A SAMPLE SHARED PARENTING AGREEMENT
______________________and ____________________ are the parents of _________________________ born_______.
We recognize the public policy of the State of Florida is: that it is in the best interest of children that both parents continue an active role in the up-bringing of the children.
We, as parents, agree to continue to have the joys and the responsibilities of parenting ____________ and _____________ and to make all major decisions about the children’s health, welfare and up-bringing together.
(At this point, it will be necessary for the parents to determine how often, how long, and when the child/children will spend time with each parent, keeping in mind that the child must be given the opportunity to spend as much time as possible with each parent).
a. The child shall live with the father/mother in his/her home located at _______ for a period of time beginning _______ and ending ______________.
b. The child shall live with the father/mother in his/her home located at ___for the following periods of time: (specify times of day, dates, days, weekends, weeks, months, and years.)
c. Day care shall e arranged and paid for by the parent with whom the child is living at the time. (Optional).
d. Although the child is living with one parent during a certain period of time, the parents may agree to exchange or interchange time periods, or offer other times that would otherwise require care of the child/children by another person, such as a baby-sitter, day- care, etc.
II. Holidays, Vacations, Special Days: Shall be spent with each parent as follows:
a. New Years Eve, Day
b. Religious Holidays, Christmas, Easter, Hanukkah, etc.
c. Vacations: Summer, Winter
d. Birthdays: Child’s, parents’, other
e. Holidays: National, school other
f. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day
III. Participation in child’s Activities:
Both parents shall have the right to take part in and attend special activities or events in which the child is involved. Including school programs, extracurricular activities, sports events, religious activities and social activities.
IV. Removal of Child/Children From Area:
Neither party may move the residence of the child/children from the State of Florida without written agreement of the other parent or a court order. Each parent must keep the other informed of his/her whereabouts at all times, in writing and kept in the court file.
V. Major Decisions:
Here the parents shall decide what decisions concerning the child are important to require a joint effort. The following are suggested although we recognize these decisions are the responsibility of the parents we believe it is important to seek “input” from our child/children.
a. Major medical, psychiatric, dental decisions shall e made by ________.
1. Each parent shall have the right to receive and inspect records.
b. Education decisions shall be made by _____________________.
1. Each parent shall have the right to receive and inspect school records and reports.
c. Religious decisions shall be made by _____________.
d. Marriage of child/children decisions shall be made by _______________.
e. Enlistment in the Armed Forces decisions shall be made by ________________.
f. Legal decisions shall be made by ___________________________.
g. Financial decisions shall be made by ____________________________.
h. Recreational decisions shall be made by _______________________.
i. Social decisions shall be made by ______________________________.
VI. Daily Care of Child/Children:
Decisions and responsibility of the parent with whom the child is living. (Understanding the need for a regular schedule in the life of the child, the parents may agree that the parent with whom the child is living shall have the responsibility to make routine decisions on a daily basis).
a. The parent shall have the responsibility for the care and well-being of the minor child/children. The child/children shall be fed, clothed and taken to school and other activities in which he/she is involved.
b. The parent shall take responsibility for meeting medical and dental emergencies, and permission of both parents for treatment shall not be necessary.
VII. Guidance And Up-Bringing:
Each parent shall respect the right of the other to promote his/her viewpoint concerning the discipline, social behavior, morals, values, and religious development of the child.
Neither parent shall speak in a derogatory manner about the other parent or allow any other person to do so in the presence of the child/children, or attempt to alienate the child/children from the other parent in any manner.
The parents and child/children shall have reasonable, free and open telephone communication with each other at all times. Each parent shall keep the other informed of his/her work and residence telephone numbers, current address, and the whereabouts of the child/children if out of town, state or country or vacation, at camp, etc.
In the event of an accident of illness, either parent having the knowledge of circumstances seriously affecting the child’s health and welfare shall promptly notify the other, share all information available and arrange for access to the child and or the professional treating the child either by telephone communication or in person.
X. Conflict Resolution:
In the event that the parents are unable to work through disagreements concerning the child/children they shall seek the help of a mediator, counselor or other professional person skilled in the resolution of problems of children and their families. The procedure shall be followed to its conclusion before either parent takes the matter to court.
(Optional) It is in the best interest of the child/children that they maintain a relationship with their maternal grandparents, ____________ and/or their paternal grandparents, ______, and that reasonable access and communication with the grandparents shall be provided.
We, __________ and _____________, the parents of _________________ and _______________ support the right of our child/children to have a continuing relationship with each parent, including frequent access and contact with each, as outlined above, and we agree to cooperate in achieving this goal.
THE MORE DECISIONS YOU MAKE AS PARENTS REGARDING YOUR CHILDREN THE BETTER IT IS FOR THE CHILDREN. In the event you are not able to mutually agree on a parenting plan, you might want to consider consulting a family mediator.
- PRIMARY PLACE OF RESIDENCE AND TIME-SHARING ARRANGEMENTS are not necessarily permanent. Wise parents will make necessary adjustments along the way in order to provide for changing needs of their children.
- PARENTS SHOULD NOT make plans for the children on the other parent’s time without first asking the other parent.
- HOLIDAYS, SPECIAL OCCASIONS AND VACATION TIME takes priority over the regular time-sharing schedule. No matter in whose house the children reside, no matter whose day or weekend it is with the children, these are special times for the children and are dealt with separately.
- COMMON SENSE, COURTESTY AND RESPECT for your child are the necessary ingredients in determining primary place of residence and time-sharing arrangements.
DEVELOPING A PARENTING PLAN
In developing a parenting plan you will want to consider the following:
• Living arrangements for the children
• When they will be with each of you
• Holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions
• Shared parenting issues (i.e., medical, dental)
Each family is unique and has its own special way of operating; therefore, you want to have a plan that is workable and meets the particular needs of your family.
Keep in mind that whatever plan you decide upon, you will probably want to change it as time goes on to accommodate the changing needs of your children as well as your own changing needs such as new work hours, relocation, etc.
In the event setting definite schedule is not possible, you may decide on a process you will use in making arrangements. For example: The mother/father agrees to provide the other parent with his/her work schedule each week so that arrangements can be made for the children to have time with their mother/father.
You may also establish a step-by-step process. For example, if your child is young, and has never been away from home for more than one night, you may decide on the following: Until the child reaches kindergarten age, vacation time with each parent will not exceed __________ number or uninterrupted days. Following that, each parent will have _____________.
CONSIDERATIONS IN TIME-SHARING ARRANGEMENTS
Distance between parents’ homes:
• Can children attend the same school comfortably from both homes?
• Transportation time to school from each home.
• Can children attend after school activities from each home without difficulty?
• Distance of children’s play friends from each home.
Ability to maintain consistency in children’s bedtime, homework responsibility, etc. during school times. Most children do better with a fixed schedule so that they can plan ahead. Fixed does not mean rigid. Children feel defeated with rigidity, whereas appropriate flexibility gives them a sense of their own self worth and control over their lives. Parents who allow appropriate flexibility in schedules help their children develop a sense of control over their lives and a sense of being important.
REGARDING YOUR NEGATIVE EMOTIONAL ASPECTS AND PARENTING
- If you continually behave in a helpless manner, your child will learn to be a victim
- If you remain the picture of doom, you child could grow up to be a defeatist.
- If you are a constant complainer, your child could grow up thinking and feeling hopeless.
- If you fail to take responsibility your child could grow up blaming and avoidant.
- If you are demanding of others around you (a user of people), your child could grow up to be self centered and controlling.
- As a way of over compensation your kids could over react to all of these issues and become, passive aggressive, people pleasing and co-dependant. Not a pretty picture
- REMEMBER YOU ARE THE ROLE MODEL FOR YOUR CHILDREN. THEY WILL TUNE INTO YOUR BEHAVIOR AS FAST AS THEY TUNE INTO T.V.
REMEMBER…All you can do is your part. If the other parent wishes to remain uninvolved and emotionally negative, it is not helpful for you or for your children to make excuses, blame or take responsibility for that parent’s actions or lack of action.
If a child has at least one loving stable parent, the child is likely to grow up to be a stable loving adult.
THE TELL TALE CHILD All children manipulate EVEN YOURS!
COMMON THINGS KIDS TELL TALES ABOUT
- What they ate (if anything) when with the other parent.
- What they got to do (or not do) at moms/dads (re: bedtimes, chores, privileges).
- How and by whom they were disciplined during their visit.
- What others said to them about mom, dad and child.
- How they were treated by stepmom/dad, girl/boyfriend, stepbrother/sister.
Below are some reasons for children telling tales and some tips on how to handle them:
- POWER: Some parents will act on everything the children say. This gives children a tremendous amount of power. Do not overreact. If you have some genuine concerns, check out what’s happening with the other parent prior to drawing conclusions or making decisions.
- KEEP FOCUS OFF CHILD’S BEHAVIOR: Children may tell tales about parents to stay out of trouble. Child gets a failing grade. “I don’t have time to do homework at dad’s house.” “Mom gives me too many chores to do.”
- It’s important not blindly accept the children’s word. Parental communication is essential.
- KEEP CONNECTED:
a. Children may do or say things in an attempt to get parents back together.
b. They may also set mom/dad up to fight. This is another way to keep both parents in their lives.
- GET WHAT HE/SHE WANTS: Children may tell tales in hopes of getting one parent to do what the other parent will not. The children may attempt to make a parent feel guilty for not doing, buying, or giving as much as the other parent.
- Such as this common statement “Dad you’re so mean. At mom’s we never go to bed before 11pm on weekends.”
- Parent should explain to the child that he/she is expected to follow the rules of the household he/she is in at the time.
- FOR APPROVAL: Children may tell a parent what they think that parent wants to hear about the other parent. Children often do this to get love, attention, or to please mom/dad.
- FINISHING NOTE: All children will attempt to manipulate. They will manipulate as much as parents allow. Before blaming the other parent, please CHECK IT OUT in a NON ACCUSATORY manner!
Parents involved in divorce frequently express concern regarding each other’s “Quality Parenting.” Most parents do not differ in their ultimate goal for their children, most; however, differ in the way in which they help their children achieve that goal. The uniqueness each parent has can be beneficial to children. Listed below are suggestions for your consideration.
WHAT ARE THE GOALS THAT PARENTS WANT FOR THEIR CHILDREN?
• To achieve academically to the best of their ability
• To become self sufficient
• To have the ability to maintain positive relationships with others
• To develop coping skills
• To have a positive self concept
• To develop and maintain appropriate responsibility regarding home, school, activities, work, relationships, etc.
HOW CAN YOU HELP YOUR CHILD ACHIEVE THESE GOALS?
- Allow your child to develop self confidence (self esteem).
- Self confidence or self esteem cannot be given to a child. It is earned by competency.
- Children become competent by doing and in doing they will experience both failures and successes.
- Separate Child’s wants from needs.
- Children want to stay up late; they need rest.
- Children want a lot of toys; they need the opportunity to develop their own inner resources.
- Children want to watch TV. Or play video games they need to know how to maintain relationships with others.
- Children frequently express a financial want but have an emotional need.
- “Children should have a small amount of what they want and a large amount of what they need.”
- Allow your child to experience age appropriate “hurts”.
- Children who are shielded from all of life’s sadness frequently do not develop coping skills necessary for functioning in this “imperfect world.”
- Rather than pretend there is no hurt, or rather than taking the hurt away, teach your children how to cope with it, so that they will have these skills when they are older.
- Allow your children to be creative in a positive way.
- Provide your children with ample independent time so that they do not become overly dependent upon people and things.
- An amount of boredom is okay as it allows your child to develop self sufficiency.
- Quality parenting allows children to have both roots and wings
SERVICES: HELP IS AVAILABLE -- FAMILY MEDIATION
The court’s family mediation program was developed to provide people with a choice, leaving the responsibility for making decisions where it belongs- with the family. While every family may not resolve all of the disputes regarding the future care of the children, most have found mediation useful in reaching acceptable agreements defining their ongoing relationships and responsibilities to each other as well as to the children.
Mediation is a way of settling your disagreements about the care of your children during or following separation and divorce without a courtroom battle. The process directly involves both parents in searching for a resolution of the problems which families normally experience during separation and divorce. Through mediation, the rights and responsibilities of each parent are identified. The goal is to recognize the family, not to “award custody to one parent and make a “visitor of the other.
The mediator, who is trained and certified to address family issues, acts as a third party neutral, and NOT as a judge or counselor. The mediator’s role is to assist the parents in arriving at a voluntary, mutually acceptable agreement. If an agreement is reached at mediation, it is signed by parties, the mediator, and the attorneys, if any. When the agreement is approved by the court, it is binding upon the parties. Mediation conferences are confidential and no information from the sessions will be revealed by the mediators to any other person, including the judge. If the parties do not reach an agreement, the mediator simply reports that outcome to the court. The parties then resume their lawsuit before the court.
HOW TO GET HELP
In choosing a professional, whether for yourself or your child, make sure that the person is qualified, works with children and families, and knows something about divorce. Referrals for counselors can come from friends and other professionals such as family or pediatric doctors, guidance counselors, or ministers. You may also contact me at 561-347-6772.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You have the right to know what their areas of specialty are, what kind of training they have had to approach the specific issue you would like to address, how they work toward problem resolution, their fees, and whether, if applicable in your state, they meet licensure requirements. After interviewing several sources, select a provider.
WHERE TO CHECK FOR HELP
Please contact me so I can provide you with a list of providers specific to your needs. Carl Moss MS LMHC Psychotherapist phone 5621-347-6772.Your local bookstore and library – There are many delightful and informative books written for children of all ages going through the divorce process.
There are also many books written for parents that not only provide information as to how best to help their children, but to also provide information regarding personal coping skills during the divorce process.
Letter from a Child:
Dear Mom and Dad,
When I was growing up I thought I’d our family together forever. Well now you’re not together and now I have two big problems.
You can help me a lot if you’ll follow the following rule:
Don’t criticize or talk about each other. It makes me feel bad inside because I’m half of each of you. Don’t fight and yell at each other in front of me because I get scared. Don’t use me to send messages between you because it makes me feel like a tattletale.
Don’t keep me away from either of you because I need both of you and I get so sad when I don’t see you. Don’t make me choose which of you I have to live with. I just can’t do it. I love you both!
I don’t want you to act like my buddy or my friend or dress like the kids I hang out with because it’s embarrassing to me. Please let me love and be with both of you and all my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Tell each other instead of me when you change plans so I don’t have to be blamed when things don’t work out. I feel guilty because I think it may be my fault that you’re divorced because you fight over me all the time. When you tell me I’m like the other parent you hate, I know you hate me too. Don’t ask me who I love more. I love you both, so then I have to lie.
Thanks mom and dad---I love you both
Signed, David D Vorse.
Boca Plaza V- 398 Camino Gardens Blvd - Suite 202 - Boca Raton, FL. 33432