- One option is to not allow the children to be introduced to any significant others without agreement of the other parent.
- Sometimes parents like to have a period of time (such as six months or one year) after the divorce is final when no significant other shall be introduced to the children.
- An introduction to a significant other may only occur when a neutral parenting expert (such as a child specialist in the collaborative divorce process) recommends that it is appropriate to do so.
- Parents often keep some aspirational language in the decree such as: “Both parents understand that it is in the best interest of the children to support the children’s relationship with any long-term significant other of the other parent and shall make all reasonable efforts to do so.”
- Give yourself sufficient time to heal. Divorce is a major life crisis. Entering into a new relationship too quickly increases the likelihood that you will not have had time to master the emotional and relational lessons to be learned from your marriage so that you can be truly ready for a new significant attachment.
- Give your children sufficient time to heal. Children are deeply affected by a divorce. Many children tell me the news felt like a bad dream, and what helps them adjust is getting used to the “new normal” over time. Adding additional changes too quickly can negatively impact children’s energy, focus, emotional stability and resilience.
- Inform your co-parent before introducing a new significant other to your children. This is not only a courtesy between parents, but it also helps keeps children out of the middle when they know the new relationship is not a secret.
- If you are co-parenting, any new partner or spouse will need to understand and honor the fact that you have a preexisting lifelong co-parenting relationship. It can be a big red flag if a new person seems threatened by or not accepting of your co-parenting relationship.
- Children may experience insecurity, jealousy or other worries regarding new adults and children who are increasingly present during their time with a parent. This can be especially challenging if step-children get to spend more actual time with this parent than do his or her own children. Parents need to stay attuned to their children’s cues about needing attention, and plan dates and special time with them.
- Vacation during parenting time. Often parents are each allowed to take unlimited vacations during their scheduled parenting time. There may be additional requirements to notify the off-duty parent of any travel or certain vacations that are not agreed to generally. But because these vacation do not impact parenting time, they are usually the simplest to address.
- Vacation with the children that includes off-duty parenting time. Some parents agree to some amount of time for vacations that are longer than parenting time blocks. One or two weeks a year often fits for families. These vacations may include travel out-of-state or be contiguous time in town. Usually both parents have the same amount of time and there is often a notice requirement – that the parent wanting a vacation informs the other parent of the planned vacation. This time often supersedes regularly scheduled parenting time and is not made up at a later date.
- Vacation without the children that includes no-duty parenting time. Sometimes parents agree to include vacation time without the children in a parenting plan. This allows a parent to have time away while the other parent takes on more parenting time. This vacation time is also usually equally provided to both parents and includes a notice requirement.
- If it is not a natural school change point, how well do the children deal with change? Do they make friends easily? Do they know anyone at the potential new school? Are there specific elements of the new school that would be particularly enjoyable for the child (such as an orchestra or specific extra curricular activity)?
- How well does the new school deal with change? Do they have programs in place to integrate transfer students into school? Is there anyone who has transferred into the school recently that you or the children could talk to in order to prepare? Could the school assign your children mentors or buddies to help them feel more comfortable if they transfer?
- How would a school change impact parenting time? Will both parents still have meaningful time with the children?
- Should the children have some say in this decision? Junior high and high school students may want to visit potential schools and provide some input on the change.
One of the most valuable outcomes of Collaborative Team Practice for many families is how respectfully the process helps prepare parents for effective co-parenting. Lee Eddison, a very experienced neutral coach in Collaborative Team Practice, aptly describes this as a transition from We (a married couple) to a different kind of We (co-parents).
In Collaborative Team Practice, the expertise to make this transition is available from two mental health professionals on the team, the neutral child specialist and the neutral coach. The neutral child specialist offers a child-inclusive process to assist parents in the creation of a developmentally responsive Parenting Plan. The Parenting Plan lays an important foundation for effective-co-parenting with detailed agreements about decision making; communication; parenting expectations, routines and guidelines; and parenting time. This foundation is considerably strengthened when parents also create a Relationship Plan with their neutral coach.The Relationship Plan is a set of clear and specific agreements about how parents can communicate effectively and resolve potential or actual conflicts in a productive manner once they have completed their divorce or separation and are on their own. The Relationship Plan is not a list of cookie cutter recommendations or generic advice, but is specifically tailored to the unique needs and concerns of each family.
Included in the Relationship Plan are agreements about necessary boundaries to define safe emotional, physical and communication space for co-parenting.The neutral coach helps parents be specific about what words and behaviors from a co-parent would feel respectful and supportive, what could easily trigger negative emotions, and what to do if negative emotions are triggered. The Relationship Plan helps parents anticipate and prepare for a number of sensitive and potentially complicated interpersonal situations that frequently arise after a divorce or break up.Creating a Relationship Plan also provides an opportunity for parents to articulate and build on their own and their co-parent’s strengths.In my experience as a neutral child specialist, parents who invest the time and resources to create a Relationship Plan with their neutral coach have prepared themselves as fully as possible for their lifelong relationship as co-parents. On behalf of their children, what could possibly be more valuable than that?