Children’s Ages, Needs, and Developmental Stages
Children’s abilities and needs are not the same at four as they are at thirteen. They grow and change. These changes take place in known developmental stages that are fairly predictable, although the exact age these changes occur varies slightly from child to child.
When considering a parenting plan, your children’s ages and needs are significant factors. The needs of a young child and the needs of a teenager, for instance, are going to be very different. That may be obvious. Not so obvious are some of the things co-parents can do to help children through these developmental stages.
While you may know your children very well, a solid understanding of the developmental needs of children will make you better able to design an effective parenting plan.
A look at where your children stand developmentally will help you design an age-appropriate plan to meet their needs, always bearing in mind that your children are unique.
Separation and divorce are major stressors in a child’s life. Designing a parenting plan that considers each child’s developmental stage will reduce some of the stress and anxiety at the time of the separation or divorce.
A well-written custody agreement
A well-written custody agreement will be helpful to your co-parent relationship. It is an important document and deserves enough time to consider all possibilities.
Start by understanding that the custody plan is your agreement. This means that you may add whatever information is needed to support the two of you in your working relationship.
Most custody agreement/parent plans and court-orders regarding custody are written by someone other than the parents. These agreements often contain information the parents did not decide on or agree to. Instead, the information likely was placed in the custody agreement/parent plan by a well-meaning mediator or attorney who believes he or she knows what works for most parents. This does not mean the same information works for you.
It’s your agreement and I recommend that you take charge. The courts have no prohibition against parents adding provisions to their parenting plans. In fact, the court has minimal requirements about what is mandatory in a parent agreement.
What is required in the parent agreement is set by state and county court rules, so before preparing yours, check to determine what the minimum requirements are in your area. This is the part a mediator or attorney can help you with.
Generally, the courts require a determination of Legal Custody and Physical Custody. Let’s look at what those terms mean:
Legal custody is the decision-making process about the children’s health, education, and welfare. Courts encourage parents to have joint legal custody and share in the decision-making process.
Physical custody is where the children are going to live. The courts require that the parents select “joint” or “sole” physical custody. Joint physical custody does not necessarily mean equal or 50/50 parenting time. It does mean that both parents have a substantial amount of time with the child.
If one parent has sole physical custody, the other parent will usually have parenting time outlined in the specified agreement.
If one parent is unable to cooperate or unfit to make decisions regarding the children, the court will award sole legal custody to the parent who is capable.
The best custody agreement/parent plans establish consistency for the children in what can be a very inconsistent time.
Parents need to understand they have many options to select from. If you already have an agreement or a court-ordered custody agreement/parent plan, this information can be used in the future when you modify or expand your existing agreement.
You can make an addendum or an amendment to your existing custody agreement/parent plan by adding some of the options or by replacing an existing section of your agreement. This should always be done in writing and signed by both parents. It can be one page long or twenty pages long, but should detail how you agree to raise your children together.
Custody agreements and parent plans should be filed with the court. Relevant things to include in your custody agreement include:
- Name and date of birth of each child
- Standards of conduct for parents
- Parent responsibilities, decisions, and appointments
- Parents’ access to information and records
- School and education
- Child care
- Time spent with each parent, including school, summer holidays
- Transportation to/from each home
- How to modify the custody agreement/parent plan in the future
- Provisions for catastrophic events
- Religious affiliation and training
- Grandparents’ visitation
Many challenges arise in the course of co-parenting, so it’s good to have a plan in place that outlines how to handle these issues in advance. This avoids conflict in the future.
When parents are communicating well, they can create more flexible agreements with less specific detail. When parents are challenged by communication, a more specific agreement that outlines the details of their co-parent relationship helps reduce the risk of conflict.
This is an excerpt from my book, 8-Weeks to Collaborative Co-Parenting.
You can purchase on-line with Amazon.com or come to Family Law Center, 1722 Professional Drive, Sacramento, CA. 95825 for a free copy.
I recommend you hire an attorney or mediator to help you with your custody/parent plan to be sure you have created the best agreement for you and your children.
Carol F. Delzer, Attorney-Mediator, Marriage and Family Therapist, 916-488-5088.