As a legal professional, I work with divorcing families to represent them through the legal transactional process to separate property, address income and expense cash flow and ultimately to support each individual to become financially independent over time. Eventually, that process reaches conclusion. But if there are children involved, by definition, there is never a conclusion– only the beginning of a new relationship with a new set of rules.
The anxiety and stress of the divorce process will ultimately end, but if there are relationship stressors, those will most likely continue throughout the co-parenting phase of raising children in two households. While co-parenting solves one problem of separating households, any on-going conflict will trap the family in an unhealthy cycle, and all the research shows that it isn’t divorce that causes emotional harm to the children it is the level of conflict between the spouses.
Developing a parenting plan is essential; it is a roadmap for how parents will manage every detail of raising children. Sometimes the process to develop it can be as difficult as the entire divorce and sometimes it can be a little easier to agree on shared values for the children, but in either scenario, once the agreement is signed and executed, the real work begins. Why? Because standard parenting agreements include vague language that suggests an on-going requirement to “notice, consult, agree, provide, confirm, advise, and communicate” For example, “Health Network – Parents shall consult and agree to utilize a provider within the insurance plan network.” Depending on the level of conflict between parents, those simple words can ignite chaos and can be used by either parent as a sword and a shield; a violation of any one of the provisions could cost more in money in legal fees not to mention escalated adversity.
As divorce professionals, we have to better guide families through the parenting plan process and go beyond simply drafting a document to working with them to establish specific guidelines for on-going communication. What is the methodology to “consult” or “inform”? What is the methodology to “agree”? Once the professionals exit the three or four-way conversation, the two parents need tools to manage what becomes a day-to-day process for years, sometimes, decades, otherwise they will be right back in the system which is entirely counterproductive. Client-facing legal technology is on trend to provide tools that allow for communication without direct interaction which will ultimately save families money and emotional stress. One example is OurChildInfo.com, an inexpensive tool that offers a streamlined, efficient and neutral way to manage the obligations to “notice, consult, agree, provide, confirm, advise, and communicate.” Families have a responsibility to their children to create an environment free of conflict and with the advent of technology and progressive thinking, they now have the support to do so. There are many tools to fit different family dynamics, budget and needs, so it is worth researching options and being proactive to establish healthy guidelines early to allow for successful co-parenting and emotionally stable children of divorce.