Parenting Plans for Preschoolers

July 10, 2017

Parenting Plans for Preschoolers

When faced with determining parenting plans (aka custody arrangements) for preschool aged children, most courts will use the “best interest of the child standard.” This standard is most often determined based on the environment which will best provide healthy opportunities for the child’s physical, psychological, and emotional development. In most states, there are several determining factors laid out with room for individual interpretation by judges.

According to leading human development specialists and child psychologists, the four most important factors for determining this best interest standard are:

(1) parent-child attachment,
(2) sleeping arrangements,
(3) maintaining relationships, and
(4) parental cooperation.

Best Interest Factor #1: Parent-Child Attachment.
Key factors for consideration are:

  • The relationship between the child and the caregivers
  • The critical components to child development – emotional availability, commitment, protection, organized structure, responsiveness to needs, teaching, appropriate play, and discipline
  • Provision of a safe and responsive emotional environment (i.e. caregiver helps to comfort children in responses to emotionally charged situations)
  • The bond between the child and the caregiver
  • Ability of the caregiver to properly act as a primary caregiver

Best Interest Factor #2 – Sleeping Arrangements
This factor requires a balance between the sleeping arrangements between the caregiver and the child with the development of the child as an independent person. Many experts agree that:

  • Allowing a child to sleep in a parent’s bed on a short-term basis, for emotional comfort, is not necessarily harmful
    • Permanent changes to a child’s sleeping arrangement, however, may foster developmental regression
    • Sleeping alone is a developmental achievement for children that fosters a sense of independence, autonomy, and competence
  • Regular overnight visits have been associated with better adjustment throughout divorce by toddlers and young children (Pruett, Insabella & Gustafson, 2005)
  • Parents involved pre-divorce who are denied overnight access post-divorce are prevented from establishing a stronger and deeper relationship with their children

Best Interest Factor #3 – Maintaining Relationships
This factor is a complicated determinant because it weights the potential social and development concerns for the child throughout the divorce process.

  • Children have a higher risk of losing significant relationships with friends, family members, and the non-primary parent after the divorce
  • Restricted visitation times, geographical constraints after moving, new parental relationships, and remarriage contribute to a diminished relationship between children and their non-primary parent

Best Interset Factor #4 – Parental Cooperation

  • Parents need to support the other’s parental role and not undermine the former spouse’s authority with the children
  • Parents must not expose the children to parental fighting or embroil them in conflicts
  • Parents must not make children choose between the mother or father, but should encourage them to be close with both parents
  • Parents should encourage others to take a neutral stance regarding the divorce, including grandparents, teachers, and other significant adults
    • Children need to be able to receive support from people with neutral standpoints in order to not take sides or place blame on an individual parent
  • It is necessary to weigh the importance of keeping both parents involved in the child’s life against the detrimental effects of exposing children to parental conflict

Preschool aged children are in one of the most significant developmental periods of their lives. They are learning how to be independent, while also developing relationships with adults, peers, social groups, and family members. It is crucial to think of the most important, if not all, of the determining factors when considering how these children’s parenting plans should be arranged. Without proper consideration for the child(ren)’s needs, they may fail to reach certain developmental milestones, or develop unhealthy relationships with their parents and peers . . . and you do not get a do-over with your kids.

By Lyndsea Seril, Human Development Specialist and
Steven Seril, Mediation, Marketing & Research Assistant


Helping Children Through Divorce

April 11, 2017

For people who are not going through the trauma of divorce, keeping children outside of the fray seems easy. But, when you are in the middle of your own family splitting apart, you can sometimes say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing before you can stop yourself – even when it negatively effects your children.

Below are 15 points to keep in mind so that your children are spared, as much of possible, the feeling that they are stuck in the middle of an emotional hurricane:

  1. Put your children’s welfare first. Never use your children as a weapon against your spouse.
  2. Be sure your children have ample time with the other parent. They need it.
  3. Don’t introduce your children to your new romantic partner until the children have adjusted to your separation and your new relationship is stable.
  4. Don’t bring your children to court or to your lawyer’s office.
  5. Keep to the schedule. Give the other parent and the children as much notice as you can when you will not be able to keep to the schedule.
  6. Be considerate. Be flexible. You may both need to adjust the schedule from time to time.
  7. Giving of yourself is more important than giving material things. Your children need your consistent love and attention.
  8. Do not use your children as spies to report to you about the other parent.
  9. Do not use the children as couriers to deliver messages, money or information.
  10. Try to agree on decisions about the children, especially matters of discipline, so that one parent is not undermining the other parent’s efforts.
  11. Avoid arguments or confrontations while dropping off or picking up the children and at other times when your children are present.
  12. Don’t listen in on your children’s phone calls with the other parent.
  13. Maintain your composure. Try to keep a sense of humor. Remember that your children’s behavior is affected by your attitude and conduct.
  14. Assure your children they are not to blame for the breakup, and are not being rejected or abandoned by either parent.
  15. Don’t criticize the other parent in front of your children. Your children need to love and respect both parents in order to love and respect themselves.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


CHILD CUSTODY: THE 3 GOLDEN RULES

April 4, 2017

1. Bonding. You need a custodial care schedule that provides enough time for your child to develop and maintain a strong bond with both parents. Strong bonds are the best assurance that your child will have the skills necessary to develop strong relationships with other people throughout his or her life.

2. Influence & Teaching. You need a custodial care schedule that provides enough time for both parents to:

  • have an influence on their child;
  • teach their child lessons important for everyday living and for life’s larger aspects; and
  • to role model what that parent feels is important for a “life worth living”.

3. Joy & Security. You need a custodial care schedule that provides enough time for the child to feel the joy and security of being an integral part of both his or her parents’ lives.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Resiliency: 8 Ways to Bounce Back After Divorce

March 28, 2017

“Resiliency is a quality in objects to hold or recover their shape, or in people to stay intact. This is a kind of strength.” (definition from Vocabulary.com).

The concept of resiliency has been trending in the pervasive “how to be happy” media genre. I find the concept of resiliency to be particularly important when attempting to bounce back after the trauma of divorce. If you want to be happy after your divorce or break-up, you will need to sharpen up your resiliency skills.

The key to resiliency is to not let failure overcome your life. Resilient people have the ability to fail, time and time again, and still manage to succeed and recover from the setbacks. In a divorce, being resilient allows you to more readily heal from the sadness, trauma, guilt, fear and having the rug yanked out from under your life.

If you don’t have a naturally resilient personality, don’t worry. Your resilient self is there. It is in your DNA. Sometimes, though, that part of our genetic make-up gets a little dusty and we need to clean it off. This can be done by anyone who truly wants to feel good and get on with living a happy life (assuming you do not have a diagnoses that disallows happiness or self-satisfaction).

Finding resilience in yourself is a matter of developing behaviors, thoughts and actions that support resiliency. It requires changing some of you habits. But, how will you find the energy to change your habits and become resilient after a divorce? Because now your changes will be for you. You are in charge. Everything you do to build up your resiliency will be to become a happier person. What have you got to lose?

8 Factors that build resiliency and reduce the time that it takes to bounce back after divorce include:

  • Optimism

Your marriage could not have been good, or you wouldn’t be getting divorced (whether or not it was your idea). Freeing yourself from a bad marriage is liberating and opens doors. Start planning for a bright future.

  • Positive Attitude

There are often silver linings to divorce. For example, divorce can enable to you be more authentic in your personality and in how you parent your children.

  • Smile and Laugh

Don’t be afraid to have a good time. Encourage your mind, body and soul to feel joy. Smiling (with teeth!) is a good idea whether you feel it or not – you will do better socially and you will feel better, too. This is natural “medicine” with no side effects.

  • Be Flexible

Training yourself to be resilient will require a flexible persona. If you are not a fan of change, you will need practice at gently pushing yourself to accept new situations as simply “different, not bad”. Accept that change is part of life and that, often times, you have very little or no control over the biggest changes that occur in your life.

  • View Failure as a form of Helpful Feedback

Learning from mistakes gives people a sense of control and makes stressful situations seem less threatening. Take ownership and learn from your role in the break-up (both parties always have some level of responsiblity). Your new relationships will be stronger and healthier as a result.

  • Be Confident.

Be sure to nurture a positive view of yourself. Trust your instincts. Solve problems. Set small goals so you can feel personal progress.

  • Be Involved. Be Social.

If you have family or close friends, accept their help and support. If you don’t, now is the time to join an organization where you can help others. Civic groups, faith-based organizations and other local groups provide both social support and opportunities to help others. Helping others provides relief from own problems and gives you helpful perspective.

  • Be Strong.

Literally. Get your exercise. It’s hard to be resilient when you are a physical wreck. If you are not fit now, use your divorce as a jumping off point to get healthy. Also, exercise will give your mind a break from your issues, give you confidence and nurture creative thinking.

  • Motivation

If you were not motivated to change bad habits while you were married, your divorce or break-up may be just the catalyst you need to make important changes that stick. And remember, your children are watching everything that you do. The more motivated you are to heal yourself, the more chance your children will have of being resilient themselves.

 

By Erin Brockman, Mediation, Marketing & Research Assistant &
Robin Graine, JD, CDFA


Age Appropriate Child Custody Arrangements

March 21, 2017

Age Appropriate Child Custody ArrangementsWhen it comes to setting a custodial care plan for children of divorcing parents, there is no end to controversy with regard to what is best. Decision-makers, influencers, researchers and clinicians differ a great deal when it comes recommending the ideal parenting arrangements in a divorce situation.

What all experts do agree on, however, is that children do best when their parents get along well and the children feel that they are being parented together by both mom and dad, as a team.

This handout is not intended to be fully comprehensive, nor is it intended to pre-determine what is best for your child or children. It is, however, a compilation of recent research and conclusions that I have read and heard time and again over the many years that I have been in the family law and mediation field.

Please know, however, that these findings are not necessarily representative of what is going on in the courts. Instead, these findings are more representative of what neuroscientists, human development experts and psychologists are finding to be true about the effect of various parenting arrangements on children of divorce.

When establishing a custodial care plan for your child, it is important to customize a plan that best fits your child’s present needs, bolsters his or her sense of security, as well as helps in the development of the relationship skills for now and the future.

When crafting your parenting arrangements, many clinicians will tell you that children do not count days or hours. They count quality of time. Bickering over make-up time and ensuring a quantifiable 50/50 split, for example, does little to assist your child in becoming a happy, emotionally healthy and balanced human being. They will remember the squabbling; not the number of days missed with Mom or Dad.

They count on whether or not they feel that their parents are always be there for them, without fighting and harsh words to each other, and whether their home life feels somewhat “normal” in relationship to their friends and neighbors.

Infants & Toddlers (0 -2.5 Years):

Infancy is a time for building attachments. Without strong attachments, a child will grow up to have difficulty bonding with and forming relationships with other people. Another primary developmental task for infants is to form trust in the environment, which requires consistency in both the caretaker and the baby’s home.

  • Only about a quarter of an infant’s brain is developed at birth. The actual structure of a baby’s brain is formed in large part as a result of his/her human relationships.
  • Many experts believe that there should be a primary caretaker. This is because infants and toddlers cannot maintain the image of their primary caretaker for long and this can cause extreme stress and confusion to a baby or toddler, who may already have outside caretakers in his or her life (such as daycare, nannies).
  • Many experts believe that the mother is the best choice for the role of primary caretaker. This has to do with the theory that a mother’s brain is better wired to help an infant develop his/her ability to regulate and cope. This is related to the fact that an infant’s right brain (which reacts to deep primitive feelings) is more developed at birth than the left (thinking) side. In other words, many experts believe that mothers have a better innate capacity to” tune in” to infants than do fathers. This comes from new neuroscientific research and is not necessarily accepted by other disciplines or the courts.
  • It is essential that babies and toddlers have frequent time with the noncustodial parent in order for them to bond with that parent—which will be essential when that baby grows into a preschooler. 

Preschoolers (2.5 – 5 Years):

This is a time of continued growth and individuality. This is typically the age where time away from the primary caretaker should increase, and overnights with the noncustodial parent are recommended to become more frequent and regularized (if the child is being raised in a primary-caretaker style).

Some parents begin 50/50 custody at this age. This type of arrangement needs to be carefully considered in terms of the child’s personality, how well the parents get along and how close the parents live to one another.

  • As preschool-aged children start becoming more and more curious about their physical world, many experts believe that lots of time with their fathers is essential to help their preschoolers explore, take risks and investigate their body’s relationship to their environment
  • Preschoolers’ have much greater development of the left side of their brain than do infants and toddlers. This makes it easier for fathers to “tune in” to their children. Fathers and toddlers, some believe, are “wired” to be together and this is the time when the lack of a father can be hard on children in terms of meeting their development needs.

Children (6-8):
This period of development is focused on peer and community relationships. It is important during this stage of development for the noncustodial parent (if that is the parenting arrangements) to be part of the activities that his or her children are involved in. At this stage, children thrive on consistent contact with friends, school, and extra-curricular activities.

  • In non 50/50 custody arrangements, many experts believe that the parenting plans should include multiple overnight visits per-week with the noncustodial parent.
  • However, if a child is distressed by being away from the other parent, it is recommended that the time away should be decreased to a tolerable level, at least for a period of time.
  • If a child tolerates the stress of living in two homes, however, this can be best in terms of his or her opportunity to form strong bonds with both parents.
  • Time spent in your child’s “orbit” is important. Children at this age are watching everything you do. More often than not, children learn more by being around you and seeing how you handle life than they do from what you try and teach them directly.

Pre-Teens (9-12):

During these years, children develop their academic, athletic, and artistic skills. The noncustodial parent (if that is the parents’ arrangement) is advised to schedule time with their child, as much as possible, within the orbit of the child’s home base. In 50/50 custody situations, children still tend to have a “home base” — in terms of schools, activities, friends and where they feel most “at home” — and the other parent will need to develop a comfort level with spending time where the child has built his or her world.

  • Parent-child time needs to allow for the pre-teen’s social life, academics, sports and other extracurricular activities.
  • Parents often find themselves more of a “chauffeur” than a parent at this stage of their child’s life; but driving your children to their various activities is often a good time to talk and share. Volunteer for carpools – you will learn a lot about your children’s friends this way and also get to know the other parents in your children’s circle.
  • It is important for both parents to maintain a strong role in their pre-teen’s life. This fosters a healthy and lasting relationship with both parents. Strong parental bonds are key to a child’s ability to form relationships with others, both now and throughout their lives.

Teenagers (13-18):

This period marks the beginning of psychological emancipation as children rapidly begin establishing their personal identify. Though parents are usually settled into a routine of care for their child at this age, that may change as these teenage children seek to have input into their parenting arrangements. The priorities for these young people are their social lives, academics, and their extracurricular activities. Spending quality time with Mom or Dad is not on their minds, like it may be for their parents. The pressure of having to make space in their busy lives for “quality time” with two parents, in two separate homes, may be a source of irritation and resentment for your busy teenager. Creativity is key at this time in order to stay in tune with your child, while at the same time respecting his or her need to grow-up.

  • The custodial care schedule will need to be flexible in order to work with the teenager’s complex schedule.
  • It is important to consider the teenager’s need for his or her own agenda, as this is a part of maturing and establishing independence.
  • It is important to stay involved in the teenager’s activities such as academics, sports, arts, etc. This is important in order to maintain a healthy relationship with your teenager, show that you care, and know the people who your child is spending time with.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Signs Your Marriage is in Big Trouble

March 16, 2017

Through my divorce mediation practice, I have witnessed many things that signal big trouble or the end of a marriage, other than the typical affair. When you work with married couples every day, you see the same disturbed relationship and communication patterns over and over again. Marriages die on the vine as a result.

 

Here are some of the key signs of a marriage on its way out:

 

  • When you no longer truly care whether or not you’re making your spouse happy. When we get married, most of us find great joy in making our significant other happy. In fact, it’s generally one of our primary goals. When that desire is no longer there, most likely, neither is the love that brought you together.

 

  • Complete exhaustion dealing with your spouse when your relationships with other people seems so easy. Do you find that even the thought of having a conversation with your spouse is exhausting? Sure, you dealt with 15 issues at work today with no problem. But, the thought of discussing who will run to the grocery store with your spouse seems daunting.

 

  • Feeling anxiety or impending doom when you’re headed home from work to see your spouse. After a long, stressful day at work you just want to go home and seek reprieve. However, instead of looking forward to being comforted by your spouse’s embrace, the thought of that actually increases your anxiety and you dread dealing with them both physically and emotionally.

 

  • Dread going to social events with your spouse. Your close friend or relative is getting married and as much as you’re looking forward to the blessed event, you are dreading having to go and spend hours of time looking “happy” with your spouse. You’d rather go alone or stay home than put up a front.

 

  • Finding excuses to stay away from home when you know your spouse will be there. When you know your spouse is at home, you suddenly come up with numerous errands to run and things you need to do that are anywhere but….home.

 

  • Simple communication becomes nearly impossible. Communication is key in any relationship. Chances are you didn’t make it to the alter if you didn’t have some semblance of decent communication with your spouse. However, you are now at a point where the two of you can’t say “good morning” without getting into a fight. Maybe you are feeling stonewalled, shut down, and not given the opportunity to express your view. Maybe one of you is using angry words that instantly puts the other on the defense. There are innumerable communication pits people can fall into. But, if you find yourself in one and don’t do anything about it to get back on track, it can be the beginning of the end.

 

  • You come at issues from opposing sides instead of working as a team. Working as a team is essential in a marriage. That’s one of the main reasons to get married; to “do life” with a partner. At some point in the marriage, a couple may find themselves pitted against each other and coming at what were once mutual goals, from opposing sides. They may be viewing the other as a competitor instead of a partner.

 

  • Irretrievable resentment towards your spouse. Resentment is something that grows over time. It grows slowly, but once it’s established, it is very difficult to eradicate. It’s so important to communicate to your spouse things you are having an issue with before it gets to this point. Additionally, once negative, resentful things are said to your spouse, it is almost impossible for him or her to erase those hurtful things from their mind, causing even more resentment.

 

By Erin J. Koffman, Attorney & Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator


What to Expect in Divorce Mediation

March 7, 2017

When shopping for a good mediator, here is what you should be looking for. Mediators who settle cases efficiently and fairly do the following:

  1. Key Issues. Help you figure out what the real issues are and focus in on these matters.
  2. Goals. Help you formulate your goals and keep you on track towards reaching these goals.
  3. Fair Process. Ensure that the settlement process is fair for both parties by evening-up the playing field in terms of power and knowledge.
  4. Documents and Information. Assist in formulating a list of necessary documents and information so that you do not get overwhelmed at this emotionally difficult time.
  5. Sorting and Categorizing. Assist in the efficient sorting and categorizing of key facts, laying out the family financial picture, determining which issues are emotional/personal versus matters which can actually be settled in mediation, and determining which battles are worth fighting.
  6. Education. Educating and informing you with regard to relevant legal, financial, tax and child-related matters.
  7. Negotiation Techniques. Use of time-tested negotiation facilitation techniques (e.g. neutralizing language, focus of needs versus strategy, ensure key information is understood, focus on problem solving versus punishment).
  8. Property Settlement Agreement. Provide excellent skills in writing up your Property Settlement Agreement. This is the court-ready document that sets forth your entire divorce settlement agreement. An experienced lawyer-mediator is usually best when it comes to writing up such a document.

By Erin Brockman, Mediation, Research & Marketing Assistant
Robin Graine, JD, CDFA


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