By: Christa D. Banfield, Esq.
This post has been harder to write than I initially expected. I had planned
to write a helpful post with tips and suggested provisions to put in your
parenting plan- either initially or upon modification- that would help
ease the conflict that can be inherent with step/blended families. To
do so, I turned to a group of stepparents I belong to online to ask them-
what’s worked for you and/or what do you wish you had in your plan
to make things easier. I thought we could find a few universal things
to agree on. Simple, right? Wrong. Turns out, what works for one family
can be detrimental for another family and so forth – every family
situation is unique.
So, instead, I will try to give you some general things to consider when
drafting a parenting plan. And this isn’t just for modifications
after re-marriage, those of you who are doing your first initial plan
upon divorce/breakup should take note, too; because whether or not you
want to think about it now, you and your ex will likely find new significant
others and spouses in the future. Preparing now will hopefully help prevent
- What’s good for the goose is good for the gander - there are two
sides to every coin – yada yada yada, pick your cliche. Basically,
the problems seem to be at their worst right when the first of the two
parents remarry or begin a serious relationship with someone else- especially
if that relationship happens during or is the cause of the original breakup.
Many biological parents come to me wanting to put all sorts of provisions
into a parenting plan to control what the newcomer can/cannot do regarding
the child(ren). I caution you all- take a breath and think about this
for a minute. Why do you want this? Is it truly in the child’s best
interests, or is the child perfectly fine and this really just about you?
When you have a new partner, will you be ok with having the same controls
on you and your new partner?
- Boundaries are a good thing. Yes, we’ve all seen the memes online
about how we should all be one big happy family and go on joint Disneyland
vacations because it’s what best for the kids. And hey, if that
works for you, more power to you. But let’s be real- that works
for a tiny minority of blended/step families. Most of us would fall in
to the “thanks but no thanks” camp- and that’s ok! Really!
When people tell me they don’t need specifics in their parenting
plan because they’ll just “handle the holidays as they come,”
I basically figure I’ll hear from them again as soon as they enter
another relationship and their new partner goes crazy with that chaos.
So please, do yourself a favor and really specify how the holidays, school
breaks, and summer vacations are going to really work, ie., how they will
be split up and divided, how they will alternate, and/or the times for
exchanges. Set up some boundaries now that recognize the fact that while
you are both still the parents, you are no longer a couple and may prefer
to not see the other or their new partner at the Thanksgiving table or
may in fact have other family obligations with your new partner. You are
always allowed to mutually agree to celebrate together or veer off of
the schedule, but these provisions provide a great fallback (and avoid
drawn out legal battles) when issues inevitably arise.
- Realize you are not done once the ink is dry on your divorce decree and/or
parenting plan. You know what I just said above about making a detailed
parenting plan? I will stick by that, but please accept that what works
when your child is three and you’re recently separated will need
to be adjusted as your child grows older and new family dynamics happen.
This is yet another area where the added dimension of the step/blended
family can cause heightened conflict. Many biological parents see the
other parent’s request to modify a parenting plan as a direct result
of the stepparent’s influence. Maybe, maybe not. Regardless- take
a step back again and think- does it matter who brought up the suggestion
to make a change? Shouldn’t what really matters be finding a workable
plan to not only keep things amicable, but that works for what the children
need now? Don’t push back just because the change is to help out
a new family dynamic on their side. Remember what I said in Section No.
1 above- you may need some concession or a change too at some point.
Overall, just try to not be crazy. You wouldn’t believe some of the
stories I’ve gotten from my stepparent friends about their parenting
plans. For instance, one parent required that they get all of the baby
teeth as they fall out. Another required that the stepmother introduce
herself as “the stepmother”, so that there could never be
any confusion. What may seem rational to you, may be completely crazy
to another. Each family is unique and you need to respect those differences
as long as your children are not being harmed.
And to all stepparents reading this- if the biological parents’ schedule
and plan has worked for years, but you are now taking issue with that
and are pushing for a change, really examine why exactly you think a change
is necessary. Is really about the children and their best interest, or
is it a conflict or control issue with the adults involved? The step/blended
life is FULL of compromise. Litigation will affect the kids and your relationship
with them. Determine it’s worth it first. And if you think it is,
come see me for a consultation and I’ll help you figure out if we
can reach your objectives with as little animosity as possible.
If you would like to meet with one of our experienced Attorneys, please call
OWENS & PERKINS at (480) 630-2464 to schedule your
free 30 minute consultation.