Not surprisingly, most married couples haven’t considered writing down their approach to raising children. So when it comes to getting divorced and having to put together a document that specifies how you and your STBX will share your parenting time, it is overwhelming, confusing and alarming.
There are lots of opinions about what’s right and what might be harmful to your children and on top of everyone else’s opinions, there are cultural norms and legal standards that come into play. If you’re not careful, you may find yourself agreeing to something you later regret.
My current guest, Kyle Bradford has been divorced now for nine years and his parenting plan has evolved as his children have gotten older. His son was nine months old and his daughter was two when he got divorced. Here’s Kyle:
It still even to this day remains a bit of a contentious issue. I will say from the outset that I think that if a father wants joint custody, he should have it. I think there should be no reason whatsoever, that he should be refused if he asks for it.
With that being said, I’ve never had joint physical custody and I’ve asked for it. I’ve asked for it for four and a half years.
When I got divorced, my agreement was every other weekend. From Friday night until Sunday night and I live seven miles from their mom. Then, I would get them two nights a week for several hours, from like 3:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I would take them back.
Looking back now, nine years, it was the right decision. Granted, I felt like the fun uncle quite often, but it was the right decision to make and though I was upset about it and I didn’t like it, I chose not to fall on the sword, to paraphrase. I wasn’t going to take the legal action, because of my own pride.
We went through that schedule until we were two years into the divorce. At that point, we had some legal situations where we had to go back to court and at that point, the timing changed to where I get them every other weekend from Friday, as soon as they get off the bus, until Monday when they go to school. And then, I get them during the week one night as well.
Now my daughter’s in middle school, my son is in the fourth grade, it’s a little bit looser than it was before. I pick my kids up from school, because I work from home. I take them to school the next day. He’s got a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday, so I go take him to the doctor’s appointment. So, it’s still structured from the standpoint of me going with that schedule.
I need that structure based on my relationship and my engagement. If you look at it merely from a time prospective, I am one night each week away from 50/50 shared parenting time.
Sixty-forty, if you want to call it that. I’ve been like that now for the better part of five or six years.
During the summer when they’re off from school, because I work from home, I get them probably 70 percent of the time, because they’re able to stay here, and don’t have to go to daycare or anything like that. It’s a financial win for my ex-wife because otherwise, she would have to pay for daycare. I can do it for free. I don’t offset any of the financial component that I pay her from any sort of support obligations. I just do it, because I want to be with my kids.
This is a broad, complex topic because no one family’s situation is exactly like another’s and yet we try to follow these parenting plan templates. The best advice I can give is to take the template only as a starting point and then figure out what will and won’t work for your children. Develop your parenting plan around their needs – not yours. Put yourself in their shoes because shuttling between two homes is tough.
Don’t be pressured into committing to specifics that are too far off in the future. For example, when your children are just going into Kindergarten, you really are in no position to commit to how you’ll be handling them learning to drive. This is where you need a provision for future reviews of the agreement.
It’s also helpful to have a provision that says how you and your STBX will handle future negotiations if you’re unable to come to an agreement such as agreeing to go to mediation first instead of seeking legal action.
Take your time to build your plan – you can even be working on this before you file for divorce. This approach gives you the opportunity to test drive the plan and see if it will really work. Be prepared to discuss the details with your STBX but know that it will take several meetings – I would suggest an hour at a time. If communications between you are stretched, then consider getting help from a neutral third party. This is an investment in your child’s future and the time and energy you put into this now, will benefit your child.
But do understand, if you are required to have a parenting plan by law, then this is a legal document and you are required to follow it. Not following it could result in significant legal problems for you. This is serious business.
Kyle Bradford is a divorced father and founder of the website ChopperPapa, ‘High octane observations on manhood, divorce, relationships, fatherhood, and other intellectual roadkill’. He also hosts a monthly podcast, FatherhoodWideOpen, ‘Intelligent conversation on issues facing fatherhood and masculinity with the people who think and write on them.’ He lives, writes, and works in Atlanta, Georgia.
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