Parenting time is one of the hardest agreements to agree on during a divorce. Many parents feel they are the best parent for the child and deserve to spend holidays, vacations and quality time with each other. But in family law, the courts look to the best interests of the child, not the parent. Each parent must step away from focusing on himself or herself to determine what the child deserves.
The court will approve a parenting agreement that lets the child equitably have a relationship with each parent, unless there is concern for the child’s safety and wellbeing. But oftentimes long after the agreement is approved and the child has been shuttled between both parents, a conflict arises. How each parent treats the other parent can play a huge role on how the child perceives the split parenting time.
“Somehow, children get the message that going to the other parent’s house after a separation or divorce is optional,” says Esq. Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute. “If you give them a choice and imply it will be a negative experience, any healthy child is going to want to avoid it. Since children have so few options in their lives, if you give them an option to avoid something negative, they will avoid it.”
Eddy recommends focusing on how you speak to your child to make the transition from one parent to another. Instead of “You have to go” or “Your dad or the court is forcing you to go”, say “I expect you to go see your dad”. Expect is a much more positive word than the perception of conflict that a child will create if they hear the word force. It’s much like forcing your child to eat broccoli or brush his teeth; kids do not want to be pushed into anything.
“When given a choice, many children who live in two households would rather stay where they are at the moment,” said Eddy. “It doesn’t mean that they don’t want to see their Mom or Dad, it just means that they don’t want to stop what they’re doing, get up, pack up, and go somewhere else. Once they get to the other house, they act just the same way. Don’t take it personally: most of the time children just prefer where they are and what they’re doing. They live in the present.”
Equally as important is how each parent converses with each other. Arguments and fights can cause confusion, resistance, and abnormal behaviors from a child. Kids mimic their parents, often without knowing why, so many family therapists recommend treating your ex as if it is a business partnership. The goal of the “business” should be your child’s wellbeing. Speak to your ex like you would a colleague with neutral, respectful, diplomatic language. Children who can have a regular schedule with each parent and similar rules at each household will greatly benefit mentally and socially from a consistent routine. Everything doesn’t have to be the same at each household, but parents should work to agree on important things like homework, bedtime, activities, and big decisions involving medical and education needs.
In California, Riverside family law attorney Gerald Maggio helps individuals create a parenting agreement that the courts will approve and benefits the child. The Maggio Law Firm is experienced in joint custody matters, child support, and can help modify the parenting agreement should a change be needed years after a divorce.