There's no shortage of online guidance on navigating visitation rights with young children. The focus on little kids makes sense - after all, they'll need a great deal of emotional support and care from both parents when they're going through an upheaval like a divorce or separation.
However, young children aren't the only ones who experience fear and stress during a divorce. In fact, teens who are used to a certain degree of autonomy feel even more frustration than their younger siblings as their parents determine where they'll live during the school year, summer, and weekends as well as where they'll spend their holidays.
If you're worried about negotiating a custody arrangement that works for you, your ex-spouse, and your teen alike, this blog is for you. Keep reading for tips on how to navigate the tricky waters of custody arrangements when you're the parent of a teenager.
1. Support Your Teen's Growing Independence
Young kids don't need independence so much as they need shelter and support, but teenagers are nearing the total independence of adulthood. Forcing their adherence to a custody schedule both keeps them from becoming their own person and fosters resentment that can dog your relationship even once your teen is in their twenties.
Plus, California family law takes teenagers' preferences into consideration when deciding on custody; during hearings, a judge will likely ask your teen directly what they prefer.
As the parent, then, you should also consider your teen's preferences. Making them feel part of the discussion helps them maintain their growing sense of autonomy while forestalling problems down the road.
After all, an eight-year-old can't take off in the car when a parent they don't want to stay with comes to pick them up for the weekend. A 17-year-old can, and doing so both escalates family tension and even puts the teen in a potentially dangerous situation.
2. Work on a Cohesive Parenting Style
While teens are working towards adulthood, they're not quite there yet. Just like young kids, teens need a sense of stability to flourish, which includes knowing the same rules will be enforced no matter where they spend their days and nights.
Of course, one reason couples split up is irreconcilable differences over how to parent, so figuring out a set of ground rules you both enforce can be challenging. However, you should do everything in your power to work something out, even if the rules you set are as basic as no drinking and no staying out past curfew.
3. Consider Your Teen's Social Life
Spending every weekend or every other week with their non-residential parent might not be a big deal for a kid under ten, but teenagers are another matter entirely. Many teens spend their weekends hanging with friends, which means uprooting them every Friday night can damage both their friendships and their relationship with you.
Bear in mind that a true 50/50 split probably won't work for teens with deep social ties to their current school or community. Similarly, consider minimizing the number of weekends your teens spend with their nonresidential parent so they can still spend time with their friends.
If you're the non-residential parent, make an effort to see your teen on their home turf instead of having them switch houses every week - schedule a weekly dinner or have a standing Sunday visitation date. Make sure to support your teens' social activities too; if they get their social fix by playing on the soccer team or acting in the drama club, support them by going to as many events as possible.
Having a hard time working out a custody arrangement? Worried about doing what's best for your teen as you navigate your upcoming divorce? Get in touch with an attorney who puts your family's well-being first. Schedule a consultation with the Law Office of Richard Eldridge to get started.