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Using a parenting plan that is appropriate to a child’s age

Using a parenting plan that is appropriate to a child’s age

A parenting plan gives guidelines for each parent’s time with the child after the dissolution of a marriage, and it is an important part of co-parenting. When this plan is developed, the judge considers many factors to determine the needs of the child, including the psychological and emotional developmental stages. Many behavioral problems relate directly to these stages, so plans are typically designed with direct regard to how old the child is and how much parenting time is necessary for bonding with each parent.

Babies and toddlers need frequent daytime visits and a consistent schedule

Particularly when a child is younger, one of the goals of the plan is to lessen the stress and grief of the family changes. Predictable visitation patterns are essential no matter how old the child is, but as a rule, children under the age of one year need visits that are short, frequent and, if possible, in the same location each time.

Until the age of three, most children are not prepared for overnight stays with the non-custodial parent, but daytime visits two or three times a week are recommended. Most preschool children are developmentally ready to begin spending nights, weekends and even vacation times away from the custodial parent so that parenting time becomes more equal.

Older children require more flexibility in the visitation schedule

The social relationships and extracurricular activities of children between the ages of six and twelve require more flexibility from parents. It is still important that the visits be frequent and as predictable as possible to allow the child to maintain a healthy relationship with each parent.

During the teen years, the link to both parents is just as important as it is for younger children. A teenager is old enough to provide input about time spent with each parent, but the ultimate decision should remain with the adults.

Smooth transition routines help children feel more secure

A younger child’s need for predictability often involves careful planning for the transition between parents. Older children also need to know that their schedules and activities will not be compromised by inconsistent visitation or a parent repeatedly changing the details of the pick-up or drop-off schedule. Guidelines for transitions should be outlined in the parenting plan so that a child feels more comfortable with the situation, and may include the following:

  • Where the transition takes place
  • Which parent picks up or returns the child
  • Who is responsible for costs associated with travel
  • What time will work for both parents so that no one is late

When a familiar routine is established, protecting it by following the parenting plan helps children deal with the other changes caused by the divorce. A family law attorney can provide legal support when drafting a parenting plan that is age-appropriate for the child and making changes to the plan in the following years.

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