Children grow up, their needs and schedules evolve – and custody arrangements should evolve accordingly
In one family whose custody case I worked on, an elementary-school child grew up to be a middle-school child, and the parenting schedules in the original agreement didn’t work any more. For one thing, the young teen’s newly complex sports schedule no longer fit the joint-custody arrangement the parents had hashed out two years earlier. And a burgeoning social life turned the old pick-up-and-drop-off routines upside down.
In another case, one parent remarried, upsetting the hard-won emotional balance as the children had to adjust to new schedules and chores, different household ground rules, and the emotional setback of losing one parent’s attention to a newcomer.
Psychological studies that show custody schedules for split households should change over time depending on the children’s ages, developmental needs, activities, and social lives.
I have seen this play out many times, in cases that sometimes keep me involved for years. Clients keep coming back and filing new family-court petitions every couple of years because the family circumstances change and the children’s needs and wants change.
I tell parents not to take changes personally. Don’t automatically conclude that your child doesn’t love you as much as the other parent. Parents should consider the possibility—or should I say, strong likelihood—that it’s the child who is changing, not his or her feelings toward you.
As their children grow up, divorced parents need to find new ways to be a part of their everyday lives. Insisting on a custody schedule that the children have outgrown—and that may even impose limitations on the children’s future development and happiness—is counterproductive.
I have seen parents lay down their arms and roll up their sleeves to come up with new schedules that work better for everyone. A client I have worked with for years (but haven’t seen in a while) has been able to do this. The father has become very involved in coaching the children’s team sports. He has taken over the weekend schedule of games, practices and social activities. The mother has taken over the weekday schedule, making sure homework is done, forms are handed in and lunch money paid.
They have basically divided the labor and responsibility of raising their two boys. Each has primary decision making in their “area of expertise,” so to speak. They communicate often, and each parent feels informed and involved in the other parent’s realm, while staying out of the day-to-day details.
These parents began the divorce process fighting over every little issue. Finally, they realized that two childhoods were slipping away, and they were missing it all by being too focused on the anger they once felt for each other.