Considering the Variables in Parenting Plans
One of the most difficult tasks facing divorcing parents is establishing appropriate guidelines for parenting their children post-divorce.
Most experts believe, and I strongly concur, that there is no one "cookie-cutter" parenting arrangement. Such arrangements must be based, foremost, upon children's needs. This may seem like an obvious statement but parents often lose sight of the fact that their own desires to optimize the time spent with their children may not always be in their children's best interest.
What research and clinical practice have demonstrated overwhelmingly is that the best determinant for a child's future well-being and good functioning is not necessarily the amount of time spent with either parent but with the degree of on-going parental conflict present in the child's life. Traditional visiting patterns, which presume that default physical custody should reside with the mother, have been challenged in recent years by a preponderance of clinical and empirical data.
Thus, Courts in many jurisdictions no longer operate from this traditional model but rather take into account the variety of factors that contribute to children's well-being and best prospects for present-day good function and later development. The ability of parents to collaborate is one of the primary factors to be considered. Others, of course, include such factors as developmental or special needs, financial considerations, parental functioning, psychological and relationship issues, and many others.
You will note that rather than referring to post-divorce parent arrangements as "custody" I try to consistently use the term "parenting." Needless to say, children are not chattel, and the use of the term "custody" has typically implied a kind of ownership which certainly has no place in how parents should be thinking about their children's well-being post-divorce. No one owns kids! And kids are the first to let us know that, as soon as they are able to do so. Thinking about how we will parent our children after divorce makes far more sense than how we will take custody of them!
I would encourage you to also look at my Blog post: So what's the"best" access schedule for children?
Also, the state of Arizona has published an excellent guide to help parents to create appropriate parenting plans: Arizona Courts Parenting Plans. It’s not the only state to have done this and many other examples can be found by searching online. Another good resource is Parenting Plans For Families After Divorce, by Joan H. McWilliams, a book which is helpful for parents who feel ready to collaborate on parenting arrangements but need guidance in doing so. These are only a few sources that put an emphasis on the ways in which children's developmental stages should be linked to how parenting plans should be constructed and are the result of much research and utilization of solid empirical data.
Another thorny issue for parents is the question of overnight visitation and parenting plans for very young children. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts has compiled, in its journal, Family Court Review, a collection of essays: Overnights and Young Children: Essays from the
Family Court Review. This can be ordered through the publisher here.
For those interested in a more scholarly examination of the issue of parenting arrangements I refer you to an excellent article: Children's Living Arrangements Following Separation and Divorce: Insights from Empirical and Clinical Research by Joan B. Kelly.