What is a parenting plan? The simple answer might be the number of days or which days children spend with each parent, school holidays, special days such as Christmas etc. However, when you look at the development of a parenting plan and what the agreements are within it, a much deeper and more important process is involved.
Parenting plans provide a framework for building a new parenting relationship between two people. A post-separation parenting relationship involves communication, emotions, perceptions, and respect.
It’s about creating a new, and still nurturing environment in which the children of separated parents can continue to grow and thrive. We know from all the neuroscience research over the last two decades about how the developing brain is wired up and rewired to adapt to the environment in which it grows.
We know from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) research in the United States and from local experts like Dr Jenn McIntosh, that this environment and how it shapes the developing brain, will predict the academic, social, and mental health outcomes for children in the future. Knowing about this information and focussing on building a positive parenting post-separation relationship is what social scientists rather than lawyers are trained to do.
Having a social scientist work with a lawyer, in assisting clients to develop a parenting plan, can be a valuable asset to your practice and is a standard inclusion of Interdisciplinary Collaborative Practice.
Peter and Sally have two children, Lauren, 11 and Matthew, 9. They wanted to make their separation arrangements through Collaborative Practice.
Peter had moved out to lessen the conflict between them but he felt that Sally was controlling over the time he had with the children. They spent every second weekend but not overnights with him.
This led to frequent arguments when Peter asked for them to stay overnight. In the course of developing a parenting plan, I spent some time talking with them about their communication. Sally thought that Peter had been demanding in terms of the time he wanted with the children. She had heard that every second weekend was reasonable and reacted negatively when he asked for more time.
During our sessions, it became apparent that on an emotional level, Sally had still not really accepted the end of their relationship and was angry with Peter. Peter was frightened about losing contact with his children. Only when these factors were discussed and brought out into the open did Sally and Peter more fully understand each other and their emotions calmed. As they calmed down emotionally, they became less aggressive in their communication and were able to make some agreements about how they could manage communication more effectively.
During this time Sally also came to understand Peter’s fear of losing contact with the children and the value for the children of having a positive relationship with both parents rather than being part of their conflict. As a result, they made an agreement for the children to stay overnight with Peter on Friday and Saturday nights in one week and Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in the other. They also need to agree on who would take the children to extracurricular activities, how these would be decided, and who would pay for them. However, developing a less emotionally charged environment and improving communication was key to coming to agreements about these and many other aspects of the children’s lives post-separation.
David Roberts, Mediator