You have been divorced for 6 years. Your parenting plan did an excellent job of identifying when each of you would be the “active” parent and spend time with your kids. It set out how you were going to parent, how you would handle holidays, expenses and how you as parents would make changes to the plan.
Surprise, surprise, your 15 year old has decided that your parenting plan no longer works for him/her. Did you discuss during your separation how you would handle changes that were initiated by your children?
You have each always had your children 50% of the time. Now your child wants to stay extra weekdays at Dad’s house because it is closer to the High School. Time with friends is clearly more important than time with parents. Don’t forget to factor in that Dad has all the cool video games and his girlfriend is actually pretty great.
This is making you very uncomfortable…more time at Dad’s house means different rules, you lose the babysitter that you had for your younger child and this could potentially impact your child support. You had both agreed to an offsetting amount based on your incomes and the fact that you each had equal time with your children. Are you losing your child? What if he/she wants to move to Dad’s house permanently? Your children won’t be together all of the time as they are now.
Well that’s settled, you’ve thought about it and it just doesn’t work for you. The plan has been in place for years and everyone is very comfortable with it. You are not about to let your child be in control and you certainly do not want to raise this issue with your ex-partner. This change could cause fights and lead to spending money on a lawyer to sort out the change. You will let your child know that the schedule is not really flexible and changes will just upset the delicate balance. Things have been working out really well for 6 years. Your child is 15 and quite mature, surely they will understand.
It’s time for the talk…your child is not taking this well at all. Screaming, slamming doors…followed by “I hate you, I’m going to stay at Dad’s no matter what you say”. What just happened? You explained everything and your teenager didn’t see the logic. You have obviously given him/her way too much credit for being a mature young adult. After all, you are looking out for their best interests…or are you?
Why did your teen want to go to Dad’s more in the first place? Did you sit down and talk to your teen like a mature young adult?
Yes you are the parent and it is your job to make decisions. However, as the parent of a 15 year old you need to understand that it’s important to include your teen in the decision making process and consider that a judge would give an enormous amount of weight to the wishes of your teen. Your teen is not asking to move in with a friend or move out on their own…he/she is asking to spend extra time with their other parent.
As difficult as you think it will be, you need to sit down with your teen and the other parent. All 3 of you need to discuss the impact of this change. Some people can do this at the local Tim Horton’s, some people may need the help of a mediator and in the worst cases some need to seek legal advice and proceed through the Family Law system.
At the end of the day your parenting plan should be flexible enough to allow for changes (regardless of how they are initiated) and always take into consideration the best interests of the child.
Julie Gill Q.Med, CDFA