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


Divorce Rates at Lowest Level; but So Are Marriages

December 8, 2015

Though it may seem that everyone you know is getting a divorce, the divorce rate has actually declined by 23% since 1970!scissors

This is according to a new report published by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research Family Profile (NCFMR), Divorce Rate in the U.S.: Geographic Variation, 2014 (FP-15-18), issued by Bowling Green State University in Ohio. After peaking in 1979 (22.8 divorces per 1,000 married women), the divorce rate declined until 2000 when it began to rise again. The divorce rate fluctuated between 2005 and 2010, but since 2010, it dropped steadily. In 2014, 17.6 women divorced per 1,000 married women – a 23% drop since 1970. (Data is based on statistics from 1970-2000, National Center for Health Statistics; 2008-2014, U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 1-yr est.)

Married couples do not get along better than they used to . . . couples simply skip the marriage step and head right to parenthood.

If there is no marriage, of course, there does not need to be a divorce. When asked about the declining divorce rate, Wendy D. Manning, co-director of the NCFMR, clarified that “I think it is important to consider that the marriage rate is also declining so there are fewer men and women marrying.”

However, just because a mom and dad do not get married, does not mean that they do not have a relationship, live together, parent together and, from the child’s perspective, enjoy a family life together just like their married counterparts.

“Living together” can have devastating financial consequences to families when mom and dad break up.

From my perspective as a family mediator, parental break-ups – without the “benefit” of divorce —  mean that the children born of those relationships will suffer through the same repercussions as do children whose divorcing parents were married – but without many of the financial protections that are built into the divorce process.  

Often times, parents have spent many years building a life together.  However, unless they are married, there will be very little financial protection for the economic life that they built as a couple.  If both parents are working and make a good living, this is not always the end of the world. But, in those cases where the mom or dad is a stay-at-home parent, such a break-up can be financially devastating to that parent and child.

What is stopping couples from getting married today?

From everything that I have seen over the 14 years that I have worked with countless families in my practice as a divorce mediator, divorce lawyer and family court hearing officer, unless both parties have at least a bachelor’s degree and some money in the bank—or at least access to money—couples are often choosing to not get married in the first place. The traditional “family order” is being reversed at an increasing rate: Kids are being born first; mom and dad may or may not decide to get married in the future; and mom and dad may or may not live together, without tying the knot.  This has become the norm.

Top 3 Reasons Couples Hold Off the Wedding Plans:

  1. Couples are waiting to have enough money in the bank to have their “dream ceremony.”
  2. Couples are waiting until at least one of them has his or her career on track.
  3. Couples have lived through their own parents’ awful divorce—and it scared them to death.

Are miserable married couples staying together in greater numbers than they used to?

Though the statistics are not completely clear, it seems that couples are trying harder to stay together.  In my mediation practice, the vast majority of clients have done of everything in their power to stay together before they make the decision to divorce.

Top 3 Reasons Couples Avoid Divorce:

  1. These days, many married people have already been through a divorce – their parents’ divorce. They do not want to repeat the pain.
  2. Married couples with children (as opposed to parents who are not married) tend have higher levels of education, higher incomes, are older when they have children, and might just be better prepared to weather the storms of marriage and kids.
  3. Divorce is very expensive.

It is not only expensive to get divorced, but it is incredibly costly to maintain two independent households on less money than the couple originally had when they were maintaining only one.   Most couples know this and, for the most part, would rather see their hard earned money and savings be used for their children and building a new life for themselves, rather than disappearing into the pockets of their divorce lawyers.

If divorce is impossible to avoid, settling with a mediator is a much less expensive and emotionally damaging experience than litigating with a divorce lawyer.  Mediation is also an excellent settlement choice for unmarried parents who are working on custody and child support issues.  

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.

Do Infants Fare Well in Shared Custody Arrangements?

December 3, 2013

sleeping-babyA recent national study from researchers at the University of Virginia found that infants who spent at least one night a week apart from their primary caretaker (almost always the mother in cases of parental separation with infants), with the non-primary caretaker, formed less secure attachments to their primary caretaker, compared to babies who had fewer overnights away from their primary caretaker and/or were cared for by their father (in this case) during the daytime, only.

Attachments are defined as an enduring, deep, emotional connection between an infant and caregiver that develops within the child’s first year of life.  According to the researchers, a child’s attachment to the primary caretaker, formed during that critical first year, will serve as the basis for that child’s ability to form healthy attachments and relationships later in life.

The researchers also clarified what most of us instinctively know:  Babies have an innate biological need to be attached to caregivers – their parents being the obvious “first choice”.  When both parents are always there, this attachment is formed, in great part, by simple consistency.  That is why, when parents split up, the baby’s instinctual drive to attach to a consistent caretaker(s) might be best met by facilitating consistent caretaking during infancy. In other words: No overnights with the non-primary custodian when the child is still an infant.  This is certainly not what many fathers argue for in court and mediation when it comes to sharing the care for an infant child.  Parents in the middle of a divorce or custody battle that involves a baby, however, should be aware of the latest research on the effect of split custody arrangements on children – whether they agree or not.

The researchers of this study advocate parenting plans (custody & visitation) “that evolve, where daytime contact with father’s occurs frequently and regularly, and overnights away from the mother’s are minimized in the early years, then are gradually increased, to perhaps become equal in the preschool years.”

The researchers were clear in that either the mother or father could be the primary caregiver, but the point would be that the child ideally would be in the care each night of a loving and attentive caregiver and that there may be something disruptive about an infant spending nights in different homes.  (Of course, the “something disruptive” is hard to put your finger on . . . but it has to do with an infant’s ability to attach – which must be consistent, and is intertwined with the home in which the infant sleeps at night.)

Journal Reference:  Samantha L. Tornello, Robert Emory, Jenna Rowen, Daniel Potter, Bailey Ocker and Yishan Xu. Overnight Custody Arrangements, Attachment, and Adjustment Among Very Young Children. Journal of Marriage and Family, 1 JUL 2013; Volume 75, Issue 4, August 2013

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.

Providing for Custody & Visitation With Teens

April 30, 2013

Raising teens is never easy, but it becomes even more complicated when they are involved in a two-household family. Teens are going through a lot of changes, and having to navigate two completely separate households often adds stress to their already too-busy and somewhat volatile emotional lives. Teenagers usually prefer that their families blend into the background while they do their teen-thing.  But, when a kid is going back and forth between houses, due to a divorce, the family and “family time” often becomes a focal point of the teenager’s life (like it or not!). Of course, that is not all bad.  There are plenty of people who will tell you that their divorce is what made them finally realize the fleeting nature of their children’s youth and was, in fact, the impetus for ensuring that they spent time with their children before it got to be too late.

                  It is important for parents of teenagers to remember that, just because your child doesn’t see you much — due to everyone’s busyness — that doesn’t mean that your teenager will want to hang out with you when he or she does not have a scheduled activity.  Teenagers want to be with their friends, usually, and any parent who makes it a point of getting in the way of that for “visitation time”, might be asking for trouble. The older they get, the tougher it is to maintain a regular schedule of time with your kids – but they are always happy to have you drive . . . and pay! But, it is often those drives, after all, when you will at least get to know your children’s friends and that is, many parents find, a delight!  Try and keep a balance between making sure you and your children spend time together and allowing your teen to have a social life that is not over-prescribed by your and your ex’s divorce situation.

                arguing-family  John Hartson, PhD. And Brenda Payne, PhD recommend, in their book Creating Effective Parenting Plans: A Developmental  Approach for Lawyers and Divorce Professionals, that people working on parenting plans for families with teenagers be mindful of teenagers’ differing needs at the various stages of adolescence.  For example, with 12-13 year olds, Hartson and Payne note that there are many physiological changes going on during this time, in addition to the big move-up to middle school.  Often times, they assert, it is best to leave the custodial care schedule as it is and not add any more changes to the mix, unless there are serious problems.

                  For older teens, those entering high school and later, it is often wise to include them in discussions regarding where they will be/want to be spending their time.  At this point, for many teenagers, it tends to be more about “where” than about “with whom” they will be spending time.   For example, some teens express strong desires to spend greater amounts of time in one home over the other, not because they desire to be with one parent more than the other, but their choice is often greatly influenced by which home has greater proximity to friends, activities, and the convenience of having all of their stuff in one spot.

                  Remember that teens, like children of all ages, are still watching everything that you do.  You are still their role model in many ways, as is their other parent.  They need to see you and your ex function in everyday life so that they can learn what is important in your family culture, how you “get it all done”, what are your priorities, how your values effect your choices, etc.  This is your last shot at parenting, for the most part, and you want to try and get it right.  That will mean that you have to find a way to both spend time with your teenager, while keeping a healthy awareness of his or her need for some level of independence.

                  Your teenager will be gone before you know it.  Enjoy your time together.  Listen to your teen.  Try and accommodate his or her needs and desires, but don’t cave in to every whim. Watch for classic divorce manipulation between you and your ex.  Let your teenager know how much you love him or her every day.  Cross your fingers . . . and be confident that you are doing the best that you can, which is all anyone can really ask of a mom and a dad.

Posted by Kristina Duncan Hoeges, Freelance Paralegal and 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.

%d bloggers like this: