The MHP is neutral. That is an essential component of the mental health professional’s power in the collaborative divorce process. That said, if I’m on anyone’s “side,” it would be have to be that of the kids. My goal is to enable their parents to make the most informed decisions and to learn how to communicate and resolve conflict moving forward so that they can be the best co-parents that their children need.
Children’s lives and needs often do not conform to the box imposed by litigation or “standard” Texas Family code dictates. In fact, children’s lives are complicated and ever-changing. Divorce and the reality of two homes only add an additional layer of complication to the matrix of their family life. Not only regarding how much time they spend with each parent, but educational decisions, extracurricular activities, medical choices, developmental considerations among many others—and how children’s needs change over time. A decree set forth by a judge cannot take into account the individual quirks of this particular kid and family. It can’t contemplate that a five-year- old will become a ten-year-old way too quickly and his needs and wants will shift, in sometimes wildly unanticipated directions; it cannot foresee which parent will begin to date again and how parents (or kids) will deal with that reality.
But creating a parenting plan with an MHP can do exactly that—the MHP and the couple don’t just have one rushed day in court to cover everything from property division to “possession”; the collaborative process offers the chance to discuss all things “kiddo” in the privacy of the MHP’s office as they work to create a customized parenting plan designed around the unique needs of THIS family. It takes as long as it takes and it’s exponentially worth it to have the difficult conversations now with a qualified neutral third party, to avoid fighting about it in court down the road.
A parenting plan is simply a structure created by the couple on how they will address the needs of their children moving forward after divorce. How will we make decisions for our children in the future? How will we share our children’s time? It contemplates parental responsibilities, time-sharing, dispute resolution, and how children will change as they grow. It allows for discussion of the topics that often produce the most conflict after divorce, but are not required by the family code. And in having those hard conversations DURING the process, they then avoid that very conflict in the future. Like what are the rules for parents dating new people? How do they want to make decisions about extra-curriculars? What about summer activities? What will happen if one of them gets remarried? Hard to imagine, perhaps, in the middle of a divorce. And often painful. But the parenting plan in collaborative divorce is always contemplated with the children at center. What is in the best interest of the children?
These thorny topics and discussions take as long as they take to come to workable solutions and time is one of the gifts that the collaborative process offers couples in divorce. What this process does, in effect, is set the stage for the divorcing couple to be successful co-parents for the long haul. It sets a precedent for how this family will move on after the decree is signed and their future is resumed. It helps them consciously define who they will be. When we know that the most important predictor of children’s adjustment to divorce is the level of conflict between their parents post divorce, is it any wonder that the MHP can be the children’s best asset during their parent’s divorce?