How to Create a Parenting Plan That Fits Your Family

By: Deanna Conklin-Danao, Psy.D.
Last Update: October 29, 2016

Every child is unique. They have different personalities, temperaments and needs, and no one understands a child better than their parent. However, when parents get a divorce, it is customary that the courts end up making most of the decisions about the kids. 

While judges do their best to take into account the best interests of a child, it’s unrealistic to expect them to understand the needs of your child as deeply and fully as you do. Often, the end result is a parenting plan that doesn’t meet the needs of any member of the family—including the kids.

Developing a parenting plan that meets the needs of your kids and your family is not a simple task. Divorce is a complex emotional process that can make it difficult for even well-intentioned parents to work together. 

For parents that are committed to developing a parenting plan that meets the unique needs of your kids and also understand the challenges of developing that plan, finding a network of professionals to support that process can be invaluable.

Outside professionals can be used in all types of divorce. Collaborative Divorce and Mediated Divorce models use a wide range of outside professionals to create an actively managed process that allows parties to maintain control of the divorce and develop a settlement that meets the needs of their family.

When children are involved, the professional team can include a Child Specialist. A Child Specialist is a mental health professional with extensive experience working with kids and families going through the divorce process. A Child Specialist can support families undergoing divorce either as a member of a Collaborative Divorce team or as a consultant for a traditional divorce and provides the following services:

  • Brings your child’s voice and perspective into the process while helping to keep your child out of the middle of your divorce
  • Provides expertise in child development to understand the specific developmental needs of your child based on their age and the most current literature and research
  • Recommends strategies to effectively communicate your divorce to your children
  • Assists you in developing a co-parenting plan that meets the needs of your family
  • Helps parents understand the damaging consequences of conflict and helps develop co-parenting skills that minimize conflict

The role of a Child Specialist is to work with the parents to develop a parenting plan that evaluates a child’s age, developmental level and personality characteristics against key family dynamicssuch as the parents’ work hours, flexibility and travelto craft a parenting plan to meet the needs of the family.

While less prevalent, couples engaged in a traditional litigated divorce can also utilize mental health professionals such as a Child Specialist to assist in developing a parenting plan. In these divorces, the professionals work in a consultant role to provide the parties with the expertise needed to make good decisions.

The Cost-Benefit Analysis of Working with Outside Professionals 

The financial cost of a divorce can be overwhelming, making parents hesitant to bring in additional professionals. However, working with a professional such as a Child Specialist can not only lead to a better outcome but also lower the cost of a divorce.

Working with a Child Specialist to develop a parenting plan can reduce the time spent with lawyers. In the absence of a Child Specialist, couples will often have to work with lawyers to develop a parenting plan. Having a Child Specialist reduces this time and also allows parents to pay each profession only for their specific expertise: pay the lawyer for their legal advice and pay the mental health professional for child development and parenting input.

Employing a Child Specialist (or other professionals such as a Divorce Coach) can also reduce the emotional toll associated with a divorce. A trained mental health professional can help manage the strong emotions and assist with communication. They can also help divorcing parents develop strategies to co-parent effectively.

Recognizing a child’s strengths and struggles allows parents to develop a parenting plan that meets the child’s needs during and after a divorce. Taking charge of this process and figuring out what your unique kid needsand putting that into actionmay require some help, but will pay strong dividends for both parents and the child in the future.


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