MIAMI – For many of us, summer vacation was a time of laughter at the beach, trips to exotic locations, swimming, campfires, and memories that would last a lifetime.
But for divorced parents, it’s more likely that summers create anxiety and uncertainty. Why? Because agreements made in mediation or judgments served in court, may not consider that children’s interests and needs change as they get older.
Post-divorce, parents need to cooperate to select activities, set schedules, agree on trips, and work together for the benefit of their children. When they are not able to work out these decisions, they are often back at their attorneys or back in court, for resolution.
But that doesn’t have to be the case, according to one Miami-based organization.
“Summer can still be a time for great events and memories, even during or after a divorce,” said Robin Buckner, a family attorney and a board member of the Collaborative Family Law Institute, (www.collaborativefamlaw.com) an organization that brings civility, a focus on mutual outcomes, and a concern for children in divorce proceedings. “We all realize that the challenges of planning summer breaks can’t be avoided, but through the Collaborative Process the family can maintain its structure, albeit different, in the aftermath of a divorce.”
Based in Miami, this organization offers a voluntary process in which couples, with the assistance of a team of collaboratively-trained lawyers, financial consultants, and mental health professionals, work toward reaching a settlement on fair and equitable terms without the financial and emotional costs that often accompany litigation. Through the Collaborative Process, the parties choose to resolve the issues in their dissolution in a mutually beneficial way, outside of the court system. In a Collaborative divorce, the parties are empowered to make their own decisions and customize the terms of an agreement based upon their particular needs and interests.
“One of the key elements of the Collaborative Process is to develop a ‘post-divorce parenting’ plan that anticipates these types of challenges,” said HelenAnn Shapiro, L.C.S.W., and collaborative divorce facilitator. “The goal is to stress mutual respect between mom and dad so that summer continues to be an important time for the family without dredging up the unpleasant aspects of the marriage and subsequent divorce.
“A key element of this plan is to mutually agree – in detail – on how vacations, holidays, and birthdays will be handled.”
Regarding plans for the summer, the following are points to consider:
• Come up with a specific plan, nothing vague.
• Acknowledge that funds may be limited due to the divorce. But great plans can still be made.
• Work out the schedule in advance so there are no surprises regarding activities, trips, etc.
• Consider the perspective of the other parent in regard to schedules, time away, etc.
• Don’t use elaborate, expensive trips to drive a wedge between the kids and a parent.
• Don’t involve the kids. They don’t have to know who paid for what.
• Always be child-centric and realize that flexibility will be needed as they get older.
“The Collaborative Process stresses having mutual respect for each other throughout the divorce,” said Buckner. ”The bottom line is that they treat each other with respect while acknowledging that they shouldn’t remain married.
“Under the best of circumstances, planning a summer vacation can be stressful. This stress is frequently increased among divorced couples. But we have seen time and again that with a post-divorce parenting plan in place, summer and other holidays can be handled in a collaborative manner, benefitting the parents and children.”
The Collaborative Process offers a distinct departure from the more traditional approaches to divorce and has the advantages of:
• Control of outcomes, and
• Better use of resources (money, time, energy)
The Collaborative Process helps reset the dialogue, focuses on protecting children from the effects of divorce and results in parents being better able to co-parent in the future. It allows them to discuss potential conflicts and agree to ways to resolve them that are included in the parenting plan.
“It is actually possible to put marital differences aside while maintaining – and even improving – the family dynamic,” added Shapiro. “Once parents realize that it is possible to have a healthy outcome for the family, they are open to considering our path. When implemented properly, families are happier, financially secure, and understand that they can eliminate the hostilities of a traditional divorce.”