By Deanna Conklin-Danao, Psy.D. for Divorce Magazine
If you want to develop a parenting plan that meets the unique needs of your kids and family, then you need to be in control. Choose a divorce process and work with professionals that allow you — not the courts — to make the decisions.
Every child is unique. They have different personalities, temperaments and needs, and no one understands a child better than their parent. However, when parents get a divorce, it is customary that the courts end up making most of the decisions about the kids.
While judges do their best to take into account the best interests of a child, it’s unrealistic to expect them to understand the needs of your child as deeply and fully as you do. Often, the end result is a parenting plan that doesn’t meet the needs of any member of the family – including the kids.
Developing a parenting plan that meets the needs of your kids and your family is not a simple task. Divorce is a complex emotional process that can make it difficult for even well-intentioned parents to work together.
For parents that are committed to developing a parenting plan that meets the unique needs of your kids and also understand the challenges of developing that plan, finding a network of professionals to support that process can be invaluable.
Outside professionals can be used in all types of divorce. Collaborative Divorce and Mediated Divorce models use a wide range of outside professionals to create an actively managed process that allows parties to maintain control of the divorce and develop a settlement that meets the needs of their family.
The Role of the Child Specialist in Divorce
When children are involved, the professional team can include a Child Specialist. A Child Specialist is a mental health professional with extensive experience working with kids and families going through the divorce process. A Child Specialist can support families undergoing divorce either as a member of a Collaborative Divorce team or as a consultant for a traditional divorce and provides the following services:
- Brings your child’s voice and perspective into the process while helping to keep your child out of the middle of your divorce
- Provides expertise in child development to understand the specific developmental needs of your child based on their age and the most current literature and research
- Recommends strategies to effectively communicate your divorce to your children
- Assists you in developing a co-parenting plan that meets the needs of your family
- Helps parents understand the damaging consequences of conflict and helps develop co-parenting skills that minimize conflict
The role of a Child Specialist is to work with the parents to develop a parenting plan that evaluates a child’s age, developmental level and personality characteristics against key family dynamics — such as the parents’ work hours, flexibility and travel — to craft a parenting plan to meet the needs of the family.
While less prevalent, couples engaged in a traditional litigated divorce can also utilize mental health professionals such as a Child Specialist to assist in developing a parenting plan. In these divorces, the professionals work in a consultant role to provide the parties with the expertise needed to make good decisions.
The Cost-Benefit Analysis of Working with Outside Professionals
The financial cost of a divorce can be overwhelming, making parents hesitant to bring in additional professionals. However, working with a professional such as a Child Specialist can not only lead to a better outcome but also lower the cost of a divorce.
Working with a Child Specialist to develop a parenting plan can reduce the time spent with lawyers. In the absence of a Child Specialist, couples will often have to work with lawyers to develop a parenting plan. Having a Child Specialist reduces this time and also allows parents to pay each profession only for their specific expertise: pay the lawyer for their legal advice and pay the mental health professional for child development and parenting input.
Employing a Child Specialist (or other professionals such as a Divorce Coach) can also reduce the emotional toll associated with a divorce. A trained mental health professional can help manage the strong emotions and assist with communication. They can also help divorcing parents develop strategies to co-parent effectively.
Recognizing a child’s strengths and struggles allows parents to develop a parenting plan that meets the child’s needs during and after a divorce. Taking charge of this process and figuring out what your unique kid needs — and putting that into action — may require some help, but will pay strong dividends for both parents and the child in the future.
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