This is one in a series of four articles, in a collaboration between Law Office of Lisa A. Vance founder Lisa Vance and Dr. Becky Davenport, founder of the San Antonio-based Institute of Couple and Family Enhancement, looking at parenting plans in divorce decrees from a child’s perspective.
Bexar County’s standing orders – which judges often adopt by default when hearing divorce cases – don’t adequately account for what children need from their parents at different age levels, especially after divorce. We’re addressing four different age groups in order to help parents going through divorce think about what their children need.
Teenagers are obviously more mature and more independent than any of the previous groups of children we’ve talked about, but it’s not necessarily an easier age group.
In parenting teens, there’s a balance that should be sought. On one hand, there’s the combination of structure and guidance that teenagers need as they’re moving toward adulthood. They are still kids though, ultimately, having ongoing needs for bonding and nurturance and connection. There’s the danger of emphasizing one extreme or the other, versus really recognizing the balance between the two.
One co-parenting challenge, similar to what presents itself with three-to-six year olds, is keeping consistency in rules. Sometimes, there’s a dynamic in which one parent focuses on fun and relaxes rules, while the other parent is left to enforce homework and rules and navigating the emotions of puberty. While we might refer to this as a “weekend Disneyland dad,” know that either parent can be the “fun” or the “mean” parent, and the different approaches can manifest regardless of how much time a parent has with his or her children.
Some parents, by contrast, aren’t involved enough to be aware of those nuances – they might not enforce homework deadlines or college application deadlines because they’re not aware when those are or that they even exist.
This is also an age in which puberty becomes an even more pronounced factors in children’s lives, when boys should be asking questions of their fathers and girls should be asking questions of their mothers. When those issues come up, of course, doesn’t always coincide with the calendar and the parenting schedule. So it certainly helps for each parent to have flexibility when a child needs to talk to the other parent.
There is also a provision in the Texas Family Code regarding children making their wishes known about where they want to live, which undergoes a subtle yet important shift.
According to Section 153.009, “In a nonjury trial or at a hearing, on the application of a party, the amicus attorney, or the attorney ad litem for the child, the court shall interview in chambers a child 12 years of age or older and may interview in chambers a child under 12 years of age to determine the child’s wishes as to conservatorship or as to the person who shall have the exclusive right to determine the child’s primary residence.”
It’s best, of course, if parents can make a determination that serves their children best and the children are satisfied with the arrangement. But this is something to be mindful of when determining a parenting plan, especially if it’s a divorce involving older children.
No matter what age your children are, they need their parents to be engaged and aware of what their needs are. Though judges today know that it’s important for both parents to be involved in the lives of their children after divorce, they’re not experts on child development, and they know far less about the children impacted by a divorce than their parents. Therefore, it’s important for parents to be involved and as cooperative as possible in forging a parenting plan – and in doing so, to think about what their children need as they move from phase to phase of their development.