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.
The good news about parenting children in this broad age group is that they’re more adaptable than children in the younger age groups, and because they’re attending school full-time, they’re also getting guidance and input from teachers and other adult figures. Of course, a parent’s role remains vital during this time in a child’s life in which a child is developing physically and emotionally.
During this span of time — starting about when a child is nine or ten — a phone conversation can be meaningful, and both a parent and a child can truly get something out of it. The relationship is internalized and understood well enough for a child to where connection can take place even though he or she is not in the same room with a parent.
A four-year-old, for instance, isn’t likely getting much of anything out of a FaceTime conversation – no matter how much a parent away from his or her child puts into the call. It’s certainly not doing neurologically for a young child what actually being with the child does. Though its well-intentioned and meaningful to the parent, it can actually be upsetting to children before they get into this more advanced age range.
Ten to twelve is also the age range in which puberty begins, especially for girls. It’s obviously a time in which it’s critical for the parent of the same gender as the child to be having good, honest, open conversations. It’s also important for parents to be communicating with one another. Children have access to more information via their phones than past generations, and may be asking questions or exploring certain boundaries earlier than you might have. It’s good to draw from your experience, but you grew up in an entirely different world than today’s kids. This is also the age when parental controls on devices with internet access is important to have consistently across households.
It’s also a time in which children can get much busier with school activities, and where the schedule that worked so well during preschool might get more difficult for both parents to manage. The decree is there for parents to fall back on when there’s disagreement about scheduling, but parents should know that they can also agree to one-time, semester-long, or even open-ended changes to the schedule without having to modify the decree, if it works better for the children and parents.
If one parent is unwilling to make changes, it is possible to go to court to seek modification, but it’s obviously a longer, more contentious and expensive process to change a schedule in court. If you’re going to try to modify the parenting plan in court, make sure you’re doing so for a good reason – and make sure it’s a plan you can live with going forward, as it’s not necessarily a process you want to undergo a second time.