It is not surprising that most separating and divorcing parents worry about the impact of divorce on their children. After all, professionals writing about divorce too often reinforce parental fears by recounting, even exacerbating the negative consequences of divorce. Yet interestingly, if you read between the lines and in the footnotes of these doomsayers’ prognostications, you will note that in families where parents are committed to working together, as parents, children do just fine.
A collaborative model for parenting after separation and divorce requires communication between parents that many would prefer to avoid. It is undeniably more difficult to make decisions together than alone. However, despite a parent’s desire to avoid interaction, the simple truth is that you and your children will benefit immeasurably from the cooperation and participation of both parents.
What, you ask, does this “collaborative model” mean? What does it require me to do? The answer is not as straightforward as is the question. There is no right or wrong answer. What is clear is that the model means that both parents need to function much like a couple or a team when it comes to parenting. However, it is also clear that no two couples work together in the same way or enact their version of collaboration in the same manner. Let’s consider some areas where co-parenting can be the primary objective.
- Children’s Activities:
- For school-age children, parents may identify a date at the beginning of each school semester to determine each child’s participation in activities (e.g., sports) or lessons (e.g., dance, music, math). The date should give parents the time to research different options and/or to find out the times/dates of each offering. Depending on the age of the child, the child’s participation may also be essential. (Scheduling for preschool children may be less rigid, depending on child care and/or other considerations that have to be taken into account.)
- Determining parental or alternative caretaker’s responsibility for carpooling or other forms of transportation to and from the scheduled activities.
- Will both parents be invited to attend all events and activities of the children? What about third parties, including individuals one parent is dating or a new spouse, are they also invited?
- Doctor and Dentist Appointments:
- What routine and/or specialized appointments need to be made?
- Who is responsible for scheduling the appointments?
- Who is responsible for taking the child to the appointment?
- Who is responsible for follow up appointments, if any?
- How is information shared between parents?
- How to ensure that both parents have access to the information
- Special Services:
- If you child receives specialized services from the school or from other agencies, you will need to define parental expectations and roles. Does, for example one parent handle meetings such as those for Individual Education Plans (IEP) and, if so, how is the information communicated to the other parent.
- How are decisions reached? Is one parent granted the decision-making authority? Or are decisions made jointly regardless of whether one or both parents attend meetings and/or interact with specialists?
- What if you agree to joint decision making and then, for whatever reason, are unable to reach an agreement? In short, do you a built in process for resolving parental disputes?
- Holidays, Vacations and Special Events:
Central to the collaborative model is the planning of a schedule for holidays, vacations, and special events. Most parents find that advance scheduling with definitive terms for how holidays and vacations are to be shared is preferable and easiest to manage. If, for example, you know that the children will not be with you on Thanksgiving, you can make plans for the holiday so that you will not be alone. Conversely if you are the holiday parent, you will want to make plans for the celebration with the children.
Holiday and vacation planning takes many forms. Some parents share the holidays even after divorce. Others alternate years and still others divide up holiday and/or vacation time such that the schedule is the same in very year. The incorporation of family traditions may determine the nature of parental planning. For example, if the family has always gone to Florida on Christmas to be with one parent’s family, the tradition may be continued with other considerations given to the other parent.
Collaboration is not limited to the four areas detailed above. Many more examples can be envisioned. Yet the central focus remains the same—parents who are able to share in their children’s lives in a positive and constructive manner will find that they have a true partner is this very challenging role of parenting. And, of course, children who can count on their parents, whether married or divorced, have an advantage in this very challenging role of growing up.
Dr. Lynne C. Halem is the director at the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution in Wellesley, MA. Dr. Halem has worked in the mediation field since 1982. She is on the Family Dispute Service Panel of the American Arbitration Association and a past board member of the Divorce Center, Inc. Dr. Halem served two terms as President of the Massachusetts Council of Family Mediation. She has been featured in Boston Globe and Boston Herald articles on divorce mediation and has appeared on television and radio programs as an expert in the field of mediation and alternative dispute resolution.
Dr. Halem is a recognized specialist in family policy and family law with a masters degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate from Harvard University. She is the author of two scholarly books on divorce: Divorce Reform: Changing Legal and Social Perspectives (Free Press of Macmillan, 1980), a featured selection of the Lawyers' Literary Club, and Separated and Divorced Women (Greenwood Press, 1982), a Choice book of the year selection for academic excellence. She has served as a consultant to corporations in the public and private sectors and taught at various colleges and universities.