While some people are able to develop strong parenting plans on their own, most people can benefit from getting some help in creating a plan that truly addresses the needs of your children. There are many different types of professionals who can help you with your parenting plans and many different roles that these professionals may have. So, your success may depend on determining the kinds of professionals that can help you. Let’s look at the professional options separately.
The two big questions in getting help: Expertise and Neutrality.
In deciding what kind of help will be most useful, (with parenting or any other issue) it is best to think about two key questions. What kind of expertise do you need and do you want a “Neutral” or an “ally” (or some of both)?
Expertise: Professionals who work in the area of divorce generally have one or more of the following areas of expertise: law, negotiation, child development, communication and relationships, and financial. Successful parenting plans sometimes require some expertise in all of those areas. But let’s start by thinking about what is the most critical expertise that you need.
Lawyers and Judges: A common mistake that people make is to think that their best resource for determining parenting issues in a divorce is either an attorney or a judge. Although lawyers and judges may have a role in your final decisions, it generally makes sense to look outside of those professions. Almost any judge who has worked in divorce will agree that you do not want a judge to decide details of the parenting of your children if you can make the decision yourselves. No matter how well intentioned the judge may be, he or she does not know as much about your family as you do and their background is in law and not child development. As a result, fewer than 3% of final parenting decisions are made by judges.
While it is much more common to have lawyers help with parenting decisions, lawyers like judges, do not generally have backgrounds in child development. Therefore, while lawyers can help you sort out your options, think about negotiating strategies, or draft your agreement, they are not generally the best experts available to tell you about the unique needs of your children.
Mental Health Professionals: Often the best professionals to help you with parenting plans are mental health professionals. Child psychologists who focus on working with divorcing families can provide valuable insights about how to address the developmental needs of children in divorce. They can also meet with your children and help you understand the specific needs of your children. (This is different than child therapy, although one of the things that a child psychologist may recommend is therapy.) Mental health professionals who work with divorcing adults can also help you with your parenting plan or help you on the emotional issues or communication problems that may be impacting your ability to coparent your children successfully. Again, this is separate from therapy in that the focus is specifically on helping you with specific issues relating to your divorce.
The best parenting plans are generally created with the help of people that know the most about parenting and relationships. While that may seem obvious, most people have difficulty finding parenting assistance. While there are many people in our communities who have expertise in parenting or relationships, there is often confusion as to where these people fit in the divorce process. If you ask for any professional to assist you with you on your parenting plan, (or any part of your divorce), it is important to distinguish the people who are hired to help both parents from the people you hire to work on your behalf.
Mediators. Mediators are neutral professionals who can help you will also aspect of your divorce, including your parenting plans. Mediators can come from from a variety of professional backgrounds, including attorneys, mental health professionals and people with background in business. For more on mediation, please go to the website section on process choices.