By Linda Shin

The most urgent concern that many families who are going through difficulty face is how both parents will maintain significant roles and relationships with their children. In a legal environment, this topic gets divided into two segments: custody and visitation. Custody gets further divided into legal custody (who has input into major decisions about the children) and physical custody (where the children sleep at night). Again, in a legal environment or court setting, this can be one of the most contentious issues in a divorce case. It is also an area where many of the frustrations of the parents’ relationship becomes most obvious.

If a family goes to court for this to be sorted out, there are factors the judge will consider to help him or her make a ruling about when the children are with each parent, but the judge will not know the family—parents or children—except for the few hours spent in the courtroom over the months and often years of a divorce.

With the Collaborative process, we give you, the parents, the tools and support you need to make the best decisions for your children’s wellbeing. Our process keeps the two of you in control of your family’s future instead of putting your fate in the hands of a stranger. We do this by having you and your spouse work with a child specialist. If your child is old enough and mature enough, the child specialist will talk with the child as well, so his or her perspective can be considered. This person is a trained, experienced mental health professional who will be able to help the two of you talk about the concerns each of you has regarding the children, the hopes you have for your children, the values you want to cultivate in your children, and the best way for you and your spouse to facilitate their healthy development toward achieving those hopes as informed by the values you agree upon. This can be a tricky proposition as you transition from one household to two households, but with the insight you gain by working with a child specialist, you can protect your children from many of the negative aspects of divorce.

In the Collaborative process, instead of deciding on “custody” or “visitation,” we help you recognize that both parents are full-time parents—nobody is a “visitor.” Instead of using those court terms, we use the term “parenting plan.” This acknowledges that you and your parenting partner will be working together to raise your child until he or she reaches independence. Even after that, you will still be involved in family events revolving around your children and grandchildren, so we work hard to help you and your spouse gain the skills you need to make that plan work in the future, too. Sometimes, there are significant emotional issues that come up during the parenting plan phase of a Collaborative divorce. In these instances, we will often recommend that divorce coaches be engaged in the process to provide more support so that the family comes through the process in as healthy a way as possible. A financial professional can help you understand the present household expenses and consider options for how things can work in the future so that the children are provided for adequately in both parents’ homes.

Lastly, the lawyers help by reviewing and revising the technical aspects of the parenting plan so that it complies with the legal requirements the court has for custody, visitation and child support orders. The end result is that you will have a parenting plan custom designed by you that meets all of the legal requirements for court orders, and you will have stayed in control of your children’s future without the drama and pain of court battles.

The Collaborative Divorce Center of Coastal Virginia serves clients throughout Virginia, including those in Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, Suffolk, Hampton and surrounding areas.

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