By Robin M. Mermans, Esq. of ROAD to RESOLUTION
If you’re divorced with children, you know all too well how challenging it can be to navigate co-parenting plans. It’s not uncommon to have to modify a plan – especially as your children get older and their needs change. However, when circumstances change for a parent, it could further impact your agreement, even if you have a great system in place. This can range from a parent’s job relocation, unemployment, financial strain, illness, and other things that are out of your control. As a mother of five children under two different parenting agreements, my husband and I can relate to unexpected changes with our parenting partners. In addition to my personal experience as a mother and stepmother, I’m also a collaborative family law attorney, certified mediator, and co-parenting specialist. While it’s important to give grace to your parenting partner, you may experience conflict and challenges along the way of figuring out the best way to move forward. Here’s a helpful step-by-step path for handling any changing circumstances with your co-parent:
Step 1: Determine the Impact
Once you learn about a changing circumstance, you need to assess what changed and how it might impact your children. In addition, you’ll want to look at how it could affect each parent individually. Any type of change – big or small – could potentially bring an adjustment to your co-parenting relationship and your schedule as outlined in your parenting agreement. While this may seem like an easy first step, it can often be the most difficult and emotional to work through, so take your time and stay focused. Even co-parents who have a great partnership and strong communication skills can get lost during this step.
This process needs to be done objectively and with a clear mind. If you and your parenting partner can’t determine the impact without adding conflict and controversy, I recommend that you bring a professional into the conversation. Ideally, this person is a co-parenting specialist or coach who has expertise in these types of conversations. They can help you identify the effects – short-term and long-term – of the changed circumstance.
When you and your co-parent have a clear understanding of the impact on the children and co-parenting, you can move on to Step 2.
Step 2: Brainstorm Options to Adjust
Once the impact of the changing circumstance is determined, the next step is to brainstorm options that allow you to adjust to the new landscape. During this step, you and your parenting partner will brainstorm possibilities. This is not the time to analyze the options, but rather openly and freely brainstorm any and everything that comes to mind. Both parents will need to agree that they won’t criticize options and that they will commit to using non-violent communication (NVC), which is a method that increases empathy, respect, and understanding during difficult conversations. NVC is designed for communicators to listen as often as they speak, while sharing feelings, needs, and requests in a safe space without judgement. If this is difficult to attain, it may be helpful to also utilize a co-parenting specialist during these conversations.
Once you’ve brainstormed your options, you can proceed to Step 3.
Step 3: Develop a Game Plan
Take the options that you and your parenting partner brainstormed and review them together. Create a pros and cons list for each. Ideally, this conversation will lead to finding a hybrid option that may not be perfect, but emerges as the best solution for your children during this changed circumstance. Remember to keep the wellbeing and emotional needs of the children in the forefront of your decision. When you do this, it is remarkable how clear some decisions become. If the revised circumstance results in a deviation from the original parenting plan or support obligation determined during your initial agreement, you’ll want to bring in an attorney to look over your documents. An attorney will be able to determine if the new opportunity requires an amendment to your contractual agreement. I recommend contacting a collaborative-trained attorney who is resolution-focused, committed to keeping the matter out-of-court, and who will move quickly and diligently through the process.
ROAD to RESOLUTION is committed to helping you during your co-parenting journey and can serve as a resource for co-parenting. As a certified mediator and collaborative attorney, I am proud to offer additional services as a co-parenting specialist. I can work with you and your parenting partner to create an agreement that works for changing circumstances in your life. To learn more about our co-parenting services, reach out to my legal team. Our Charlotte-based law firm would be honored to serve you.
Note: This feature is intended to be informational only and shall not be construed as legal advice.
Robin M. Mermans is a collaborative attorney, certified mediator, and co-parenting specialist. She owns ROAD to RESOLUTION, a divorce mediation and collaborative family law firm, in Charlotte. With her unique perspective as an attorney, mother, and stepmother, she is an expert in shared parenting solutions and co-parenting guidance. She is committed to using her personal story and passion to help her clients save time and money, while avoiding unnecessary emotional turmoil during their divorce journey and on their road to resolution.