In our last post, we discussed how a couple with three children between 12 and 15 years of age made the decision to pursue child inclusive mediation (CI). Both Jeff, a high school math teacher and basketball coach, and Yvonne, an IT professional, wanted primary residential custody of 15-year-old Kyle and 12-year-old twins, Katie and Kayla. Their mediator, Brian Hill, suggested that they try CI, a process that brings a mutually agreed upon child specialist into the mediation. Yvonne and Jeff agreed that this seemed like a positive way to move forward with a successful parenting plan. They chose Dr. Jasmine Landers as their specialist.
Meetings with the Child Specialist
Dr. Landers met individually with each parent and each child, and also met with each parent together with the children. She gathered detailed information about the children’s educational and developmental histories, as well as their current and future schedules of extracurricular activities. She then met with the parents and the mediator to discuss her findings and help them put together a workable plan.
Both Jeff and Yvonne were somewhat surprised at what they learned from the meetings with Dr. Landers. The twins had agreed that they had a closer relationship with their mother than with their father. At the same time, however, both of them had spontaneously expressed comfort with splitting time equally between their parents’ new homes. They expressed great relief that both parents had decided to remain in their current neighborhood. Kyle, on the other hand, had told Dr. Landers in his separate meeting that it was hard for him to spend a lot of time with his father. If he had to choose, he said, he would much prefer to live with his mother.
“I did notice some tension between you and Kyle when I interviewed you together,” Dr. Landers told Jeff. “My guess is that some of it might come from him feeling pressure to impress you, because of the fact that you are not only his dad, but also his coach. From various comments he made, I also suspect that he may be blaming you for the divorce to some degree. Kids sometimes feel that they have to take a side.”
When Jeff expressed shock at this observation and jumped to defend himself, Dr. Landers immediately reassured him. “I’m not making any judgments here,” she stressed. “It’s quite obvious to me that both of you are involved parents who are deeply committed to your children. Kyle might just be feeling protective of his mother, without that necessarily having anything in particular to do with you. In fact, I sensed a bit of the opposite from the twins. They seem to be feeling protective of their father. That may be why they jumped to the equal time idea, as a way of ensuring that Jeff was not going to be shut out.”
“Older children often hide their own needs for emotional support,” Dr. Landers continued. “All three of your kids came across as very responsible and very mature for their ages. While that’s mostly a positive thing, it’s important that both of you make clear to them that they do not have to take care of you. You are still the parents, and so you should be protecting them; not the other way around. For Kyle in particular, a few sessions with a family therapist might help him work through his feelings.”
Functional Parenting Plans for Teens and Preteens
Dr. Landers then noted that the formerly high conflict level between the parents seemed to have dispersed considerably since they’d entered mediation. “That’s a great development for your kids,” she pointed out. “If the two of you feel that you can co-parent without fighting, the best solution would probably be for you to split parenting time equally or nearly equally. If that is too challenging, then right now the factors slightly favor designating Yvonne as the primary parent.”
Jeff protested that practical reasons made it less convenient for Kyle to spend either more time or equal time with Yvonne. Yvonne countered that she did not know how sharing time with the twins would work either, since she spent many evenings transporting them to dance classes and other activities.
“Well, that is the next step,” Dr. Landers continued. “For preteens and teens, the practicalities are often the most important thing. Each of you should consult a calendar and line up the children’s activities with your own outside responsibilities. See if you can come up with something that gives you both ample time with the kids, and also takes care of their individual needs for transportation and support. The time-share doesn’t have to be exactly equal. The kids don’t all have to have identical parenting schedules either. The great thing about creating your own plan is that you can be creative and flexible.”
Jeff and Yvonne Create Their Own Parenting Plan
Yvonne and Jeff each thought carefully before submitting their written proposals. While they continued to disagree on certain points, after a couple of attempts they came up with a mutually acceptable schedule. The plan was both detailed and unique. They had nearly equal parenting time, but their time-sharing with Kyle changed seasonally to adapt to his extracurricular activities. During the winter, he spent more time with Jeff because it was easier for him to get back and forth to practices and games that way. During the spring and fall, however, he spent more time with Yvonne. The twins, on the other hand, had a fairly stable split week schedule. They spent one extra day each week with Yvonne, to make it easier for her to drive them to their evening activities. During the summer, all of the kids spent half their vacation time with Kyle and half with Yvonne.
With the help of Dr. Landers and Mr. Hill, Yvonne and Jeff were able to craft a parenting agreement promising collaboration and flexibility. They included details about how they would communicate with each other; how the children would communicate with the parent they were not currently staying with; and how the family would resolve future disagreements, including returning to mediation for any intractable dispute. Both Jeff and Yvonne left mediation highly satisfied with both the process and their results.
If you are interested in constructing a mediation process to resolve your parenting dispute, the child custody mediators at Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, LLC’s Mediation Center can help. Contact us today for an initial consultation.