Reaching a custody settlement when your child is old enough to voice an opinion.
The Custodial Saga of Marvin and Tammy Block
Marvin and Tammy Block have been married for 16 years. They have one child, Sofia, who is about to turn fourteen. Both parents work. Marvin has his own business; Tammy is the vice president of a software company that lived through the “dot com” collapse. They have a lovely condominium in the city, a vacation cottage in Maine, two cars and, of course, two cats. They are successful, high achievers.
Despite all the good fortune, Tammy finds herself often depressed; she feels that Marvin is a good guy and a good dad, but that’s where it stops. The excitement, the energy has gone from the marriage—at least that is her side. Marvin, on the other hand, cannot understand what is wrong. Life is good. What’s the problem? He is shocked and angry.
After a year of marriage counseling—half hearted at best on Tammy’s side, Marvin gives up. A divorce is obviously inevitable. The talks begin. Tammy assumes that she and Sofia will stay in the condo; Marvin can find an apartment wherever he likes; he can even keep the cottage in Maine.
Marvin is astounded by her assumptions. What is Tammy thinking? She gets her divorce and his kid, not to mention the condo. Tammy points out that she is, after all, the mom; that she likes living in the city better than Marvin does; and they cannot take Sofia out of her school. It all is quite logical to Tammy. Marvin has other ideas. His job is no more demanding than is Tammy’s, and, in fact, he can juggle his schedule since he is, after all, the boss. Sofia should therefore live with him. Tammy can live wherever she wants, and she can have the cottage too.
Sofia, the one party who knew nothing of her parents’ thoughts, had a completely different idea. She wanted to be with both of them. Her plan was for both of her parents to stay in the city and she would be with each of them every other day. As far as the cottage in Maine, keep it, of course. They could all share it.
Marvin and Tammy were shocked. Why in the world would Sofia want to live such a life? Sofia’s answer was simple. I want to be with both of you equally and my schedule does just that.
Marvin and Tammy were stuck; they thought Sofia’s idea was crazy, but her reasoning could not be ignored. They brought their custody dilemma to their mediator. After considering whether Tammy and Marvin were willing to co parent as collaboratively and cooperatively as needed for a joint custodial arrangement, they explored different schedules. Clearly, “every other day” was not the solution of choice. Upon reviewing Tammy’s and Marvin’s work schedules, and Sofia’s academic and social commitments, they suggested to their daughter that they would try a joint custody arrangement, but there needed to be more time at each house. The resulting plan was a week in each house with the switch time occurring on Sundays before dinner. Also, the nonscheduled parent would see Sofia on Wednesday night for dinner and arrange for rides to school on Tuesdays and Thursdays maybe squeezing in a “donut” or “muffin” chat. Sofia liked her parents’ plan; it gave her equal time with each parent and a place of her own in each parent’s residence. As an aside, the condo was sold and two city dwellings were purchased with a room in each designed by Sofia.
Custody is challenging enough when there are small children involved. However, young children are more likely to accept what their parents decide is best. Conversely, older children are more entrenched in their ways; they have become “rooted” in their room, to their routines and certainly move in an orbit where friendships are a central anchor. The dynamic of the custody agreement changes, as the older child often voices his or her opinions loudly and insistently. Mediation offers a forum for taking into account an older child’s feelings and thoughts. While the final arrangement is fashioned by the parents; the child’s voice is heard. Creativity and flexibility are needed to craft a custody agreement that meets the needs of parents and their teenaged children.
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