Parenting Plans in Alabama Divorce Cases, 0321 ALBJ, Vol. 82 No. 2 Pg. 180 (June, 2021)

AuthorBy Anna M. Sparks
PositionVol. 82 2 Pg. 180

Parenting Plans in Alabama Divorce Cases

No. Vol. 82 No. 2 Pg. 180

Alabama Bar Lawyer

March, 2021

By Anna M. Sparks

Most divorce lawyers have a genuine desire to help their clients rebuild from the destruction that comes from a divorce. And one of the most important aspects of this is helping the client decide how to divide parenting time.

A comprehensive and detailed parenting plan will help parents avoid future battles because it will help prevent simple disagreements from escalating into full-scale conflicts.

A well-thought-out parenting plan should act like a road map to provide the parents with direction through inevitable conflicts. When creating a parenting plan for high conflict families, it is important to make sure that there isn't a history of domestic violence, substance abuse or dependence, and that the there is no risk of flight with the children. Once the parties and the court have decided that both parents are fit to have custodial child visits, the work should begin to c reate a plan that meets the needs of the child.1

Overall, approximately 20 to 25 percent of children of divorce have been found to suffer significant adjustment problems, in comparison to about 10 to 12 percent of the general child population. Separation and divorce substantially increase the risk of a child having adjustment problems, but it is also the case that most children of divorce do not experience serious problems in life functioning.2

Multiple sources of research, from both divorcing and intact marriages, indicate that wives and husbands give generally divergent reports about their past patterns of child caretaking, decision-making, and other household matters. In one study of couples in custody disputes that used broad, presumably easy-to-reach criteria of agreement about child caretaking activity, only nine percent of the parents were in agreement with one another.

Although in the past a number of legal scholars have referred to the strength of attachment-represented in the amount of time a child has spent with a parent-as crucial in potentially determining child custody, what is generally thought of as important today is attachment security.

Attachment security includes the quality of the parent-child relationship, not the extent of contact.3 Therefore, if during the marriage one parent worked and the other parent stayed home with the child, there is no automatic assumption that the working parent is not fit to care for the child. The dynamics of the family will necessarily change during a divorce and it is important to focus on the quality of relationship with the parent and child, not the quantity of time that the child spent with each parent during the marriage.

Traditionally, the parenting plan has been about child custody and the legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the children. This bare-bones plan does little to support a healthy co-parenting relationship during the initial period of separation and post-divorce. Research has shown us that the single most harmful aspect of a divorce for children is parents in conflict.4

If the main goal of the parenting plan schedule is the best interests of the children, it follows that the characteristics of each child and family should be a main focus. These characteristics include broad areas such as strengths, problems, and circumstances.5 It may be helpful to have a client write a list of pros and cons of each parent's ability to care for the child. Often you will find that each parent has strengths that can be worked into the plan.

A number of helpful parenting schedule prototypes have been developed. Some offer multiple schedules based on the age of the child. These schedules can be especially helpful if parents...

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