This is a true, cautionary tale about two families, the “Jones” family and the “Smith” family. Each family had a mom and a dad and a one year old child.
Both marriages were brief: less than 3 years. Both moms stayed at home caring for the baby while dad worked full time, although Mrs. Smith returned to work after her maternity leave.
After the parents separated, both dads brought a motion seeking a court order setting out temporary care arrangements for the baby. While the circumstances of these families were similar, the outcomes of their motions were entirely different.
Mrs. Jones felt that her child was too young to spend time with the dad alone. She had refused to let him see their daughter. The judge who heard the dad’s motion for access told the mom that she couldn’t prohibit the dad from seeing the baby and ordered access for 4 hours during the week and 5 hours on the weekend, with no overnights, considering the child’s age and attachment to each parent.
In comparison, one day after the Smiths separated, Mr. brought an “urgent” motion seeking sole custody. According to Mrs. Smith, the dad had limited involvement caring for the child until then. Neither party had a lawyer. The judge who dealt with this motion ordered that the baby reside with each parent an equal amount of time, including alternate weekends and overnights.
The Judge acknowledged that the mom had been the parent who had been mostly responsible for caring for the child until the separation. Even so, equal time sharing was ordered. The judge assured the distraught mom that the order was only temporary. The judge recommended that the parties retain lawyers and ordered them to come back to court one week later and to each provide a proposed schedule for the baby’s care.
The markedly different care arrangements the two judges ordered for these two similar families illustrates why separating parents would be wise to try to mediate parenting plans for their children rather than rely on the court system. The results are impossible to predict.
It is in the best interests of children, particularly under the age of 3, that the parents work together to develop a detailed parenting plan, either in mediation or mediation-arbitration. There are many professionals providing this service who also have knowledge about child development issues and how children of different ages and personalities cope with separation and divorce.
A good parenting plan will include living and decision-making arrangements that are consistent with a child’s age, developmental stage and physical and emotional needs, as well as each parent’s care giving experience and skills. It can address the specific concerns of each parent, detailed provisions for transitions between homes, and have a conflict resolution mechanism for any future disagreements.
The result will be a parenting arrangement that both parents feel is better for the child (and probably for them too) than what a judge might order. A classic win-win-win.