Teens between 14 and 17 years old become moody and anxious even in the best of times. They are physically different. Their brains are rapidly developing into maturity, and they routinely confront increasingly complex social situations requiring cognitive and emotional skills they've never applied before. Adding a divorce or separation into the mix can deeply frustrate or upset them.
If you're looking for a legal decision-making and parenting time arrangement that will save your adolescent child some grief, consider these suggestions.
Recognize your child's best interests
Generally, your teen still needs parents who support his or her mental, physical and emotional health, encourage educational or occupational goals, and provide financial stability.
However, spending heavy time with your child to provide this influence is easier with younger children. As a teen, your child has possibly diversified (and prioritized) his or her resources outside the family circle, including friends, dating partners, extracurricular activities, college, and employment.
Please take all of this into consideration while creating a plan. It's not about the parents' personal wants and needs! And despite recent clamor over "50/50" parenting time, children are not widgets. They are not pieces of pie to be divided for either parent's comfort - or to bolster their self-esteem or public image.
Just bear in mind that children eventually turn 18. And then they're not kids anymore. They also have a funny way of remembering which parent thought only of him or herself, and who wanted what was best for them. And when they reach that 18th birthday, there isn't a judge in the world who can make them live in any particular parent's house, and no legal paper anyone can file to force the kids to think or feel a certain way.
You have to think about the real goal: a long-term relationship with your children when they are adults. Litigation success is, in one sense, little more than an instant gratification that will not last.
Don't make your custody plan a competition
As teens seek more independence, parents may resist granting these new freedoms by pulling their child closer. Divorce can sometimes amplify this if a parent is looking for support after the loss of their marriage. Remember that even as a teen, your child should look to you for support and stability - not the other way around.
Also, be sure to allow your child the freedom to spend time with the other parent. Avoid making custody disputes in order to win over your child's alliance or out of resentment for your ex-spouse.
If your teen has preferences concerning the arrangement, allow him or her to express their thoughts, while explaining that the final decision will be made between you and the other parent or in court.
Parenting plan examples
Arizona's Guide for Parents Living Apart offers a number of parenting plan examples that may be suitable for older teens. They are helpful, to be sure. Just remember they do not tie the judge's hands. They are guidelines, not laws. A family court can disregard them altogether if it believes they would not serve the children.
If you are having trouble establishing a parenting time schedule or making changes to an existing plan, seek the advice of an attorney for guidance. Family law lawyers can consider past experiences, legal implications, and mediation strategies to help you come to a plan that's best for your teen.