In negotiating parenting plans for nearly 20 years, I have gradually eliminated a few different words from my vocabulary. For example, it's been a long time since I've used the words "visit" or "visitation" to describe what a non-custodial parent does when he or she is with his or her children - regardless of whether it's related to a Wednesday night dinner, a full weekend of overnights from Friday pick-up to Sunday night drop-off, or an extended period of vacation.
Two renowned psychologists who work with children in the context of divorce and separation, Daniel B. Pickar, PhD, ABPP and Robert L. Kaufman, PhD, ABPP, presented a seminar at the 50th Anniversary Conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts in Los Angeles entitled "Parenting Plan Considerations for Special Needs Children."
One of the main issues facing divorcing and separating parents is to establish a parenting plan when each party provides care and custody for his or her children. There are a number of different parenting plans that can be negotiated or ordered. Under any such plan, the challenge is for one parent to respect the parenting time of the other parent. Often, one parent wants what is called a "right of first refusal." This is when the parent who is not scheduled to have the children is under a contractual right to receive notice from the parent who has the children, but is unable to parent during any specific period of scheduled parenting time. Under those particular circumstances, the parent who is scheduled to be with the children must notify the other parent that he or she is unable to parent for one reason or another and offer the other parent the opportunity to have additional parenting time. This would be in lieu of asking a babysitter, family member or friend to step in and provide childcare during those periods.
In a recent custody case we litigated in the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court, a case in which the parties' minor child is a smart, articulate, athletic and very talented 11-year-old boy, an excellent resource published by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts ("AFCC") called "Planning for Shared Parenting: A guide for Parents Living Apart" became a vital guide for the parties in formulating an effective parenting plan that both parties agreed is in their pre-teen's best interests. Formulating pre-teen parenting plans can be quite challenging. This particular AFCC guide articulates a number of important issues that the parties to a custody case should consider. Probate and Family Court judges often refer to the resource, so it is also something that should be considered in anticipating a possible judgment after a full-blown trial. This advance knowledge certainly helps settle cases, and in turn, reduces the overall cost of litigation.
Studies indicate that parents who make disparaging comments about each other, engage in verbal altercations in the presence of their children, place the children in the middle of parental disputes, encourage protective behavior by the children in favor of one parent who may be seeking to alienate the children against the other parent, and who engage in other types of behavior that repeatedly expose their children to interpersonal, parental conflict may be causing significant adjustment problems for their children.
I recently attended the 49th Annual Conference of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts in Chicago. The conference was entitled Attachment, Brain Science and Children of Divorce: The ABCDs of Child Development for Family Law. In addition to seminars focused on the role of Parenting Coordinators in resolving disputes between parents in high-conflict custody cases, there were presentations on attachment theory, and how developments in social science help us formulate appropriate parenting plans, especially in cases involving infants and toddlers.