Custody Schedules and School Age Children: Making It Work

Many divorced parents find it necessary to revise their shared custody schedule when their children reach junior high and high school, because what worked for younger children simply doesn’t meet the needs of busy, active pre-teens and teenagers.

When parents seriously look at their outdated schedule and admit to themselves that their children’s lives are now more challenging to manage, it’s time to revise the custody schedule. Divorced parents must put aside any differences and create a custody schedule for school age children that enables them to feel secure and supported.

Social interaction often becomes more important to teens than family time. It's a critical part of developing their identity as individuals.
Social interaction often becomes more important to teens than family time. It's a critical part of developing their identity as individuals. | Source

Problems

Children at this age have different lives than younger kids and need different things from their parents in order to thrive. Most children experience an increase in school activities, sporting events, and extracurricular participation. A custody schedule for teenagers will likely include time for employment. Parents shouldn’t neglect time for hobbies and recreation, as these become increasingly important in the proper development of adolescents.

Another issue that parents must consider is that older school age children want to spend more free time with friends. Activities such as sleepovers or day-long trips with friends can make creating a custody schedule challenging because those activities may cut into a parent’s time with the child. However, friendships are an important part of adolescent social development and enhancing an older child’s relationship skills.

Besides outside activities, transitions between one parent’s house and the other become more complicated. Younger children often only need a favorite blanket or toy plus some clothes and a few other items that easily fit into a backpack. Older children, especially teenagers, often must transport computers, school uniforms, gym bags, hair and makeup bags, supplies for school and other comfort items—enough to fill a suitcase or two.

These and other problems must be addressed by the revised custody schedule so pre-teens and teenagers don't experience so much physical and emotional stress as they shuffle between two houses, race to recover forgotten items and generally feel as if they are forced away from friends and after school activities just because the custody calendar says so.

Solutions

Because of the increasing complexity in the lives of school age children, parents often modify their schedules to reduce the number of transitions made between homes. Many pre-teens and teenagers request to have a home base, with frequent visits to the other parent. Others may like the idea of alternating entire weeks between parents, giving them a chance to settle in for several days before transitioning. Still another solution is a weekday-weekend split, which gives school age children a set location for school and after-school activities.

Of course there are pros and cons to each type of schedule. Parents need to maintain open and honest communicate between them and also solicit input from their children. School age children can provide remarkable insight into what does and does not work, and can help parents identify particularly stressful parts of their custody schedule.

Parents can also help their children to face the transitions better, with less stress. Ideas include creating a master checklist that moves between houses, reducing the problems of forgotten items at the other parent’s house. Parents can also purchase items for both houses, such as a teenager’s favorite shampoo, to reduce transportation bulk. A more efficient transition means less headaches for parents and children, and reduces the stress the children might feel from a custody schedule.

School age children often concentrate better in school and during homework when they aren't worried about transitioning all the time.
School age children often concentrate better in school and during homework when they aren't worried about transitioning all the time. | Source

Summary

Keeping up with an ever-changing custody schedule can be time consuming, so many parents turn to custody software such as Custody X Change. This software allows parents to create a color-coded calendar that can be printed out for reference or uploaded to mobile devices so that everyone, including the school age children, knows exactly what happens and when.

Divorced parents must recognize that as their children change and grow, so should their custody schedule. Each family is unique and only the parents and their school age children can identify the solution that is right for them. By reviewing the schedule periodically, parents can keep their school age children’s best interests in mind and create a schedule that meets their developmental needs as they journey toward independence and adulthood.

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