Should co-parents let the teen decide the custody schedule?

Should co-parents let the teen decide the custody schedule?


Dear Meghan: Is there a best practice for splitting a teenager’s time between two homes? My 15 year old son is with his father half the time. Recently, they asked to change the schedule from every week to every two weeks, saying they felt disrupted by having to travel every week. Their father and I agreed that they were old enough to make this call themselves, but we both hated the long distances between us. Two weeks is a long time without our delicious offspring, who are quite frankly the most fantastic teenagers ever.

Are we right to give them this autonomy, or should we impose a schedule that suits us better?

Intermediate time: Yes. The answer to these two questions is: you are right to give them this autonomy, And you can apply a schedule that suits you better. And because the answer is “yes” to both, the reasonable answer is to find a happy medium between the teen choosing the schedule that suits them and creating a schedule that only pleases the parents. This comes up in meetings with the three of you and in some good old compromises.

Sure, you love your child, but it’s clear that you want to see more of your teen because you love them so much too (rather than being motivated by control or spite toward your ex); It’s a good problem to have. I could only wish that every child in the world would have two loving parents (separated or not) who want them there for the simple reason that they love the child so much. When this type of connection and respect exists (assuming your teen feels the same way about you), compromises happen much more quickly and smoothly.

My first question when looking for common ground is: What does the adolescent want and need? For example, do they play sports early at school and is one house further away than the other? Are they involved in extracurricular activities or jobs that last later, so being closer to school helps them find more time? Do they need more stability because it’s difficult for them to move every seven days with all their stuff? Living in two places requires a lot of back and forth and extra planning and, coupled with their teenage social lives, can seem like a lot right now.

I would first call their father on the phone and gauge how he feels about all of this, beyond whether the teen is “old enough to make this call.” Decide on a dinner, coffee, or breakfast with the teen where the three of you can start talking about it. I use the word “start” intentionally because often parents feel pressured to make quick decisions when quick decisions are not necessary. There is no real emergency here.

Start the meeting by expressing how much you love and love this teen and why. Even though it may seem “extra”, I find that you can’t really tell your teenagers that you love them and why! In an age of extreme (or apparent) connectivity through their phones, it’s easy for teens to forget that their family really knows and cares about them. And then just say, “Would you like to move houses every two weeks.” Tell us why and what you think. Listen carefully and don’t be afraid to take notes. Whether it’s school schedules, connecting with friends, or exhaustion from moving, write down these reasons and take your teen seriously (which I think you already do).

Next, state your own concerns. “I want you to be able to have a schedule that makes sense for your life, and I’m not in love with going a full 14 days without seeing you. Your dad and I also both have schedules where it’s not ideal for us to do all the driving, pickups, etc. for 14 full days. Let’s find some compromises. Let your teen come up with ideas before you start. This is a great opportunity to strengthen your child’s problem-solving and empathy muscles, but our teens often have better ideas than we do. They tend to see the novel or new thing before we do – that’s why they are so creative and attentive to new ways of thinking.

Go back and forth until you reach a place where not all parties totally get what they want! I’m only partly joking here; the very notion of compromise is that everyone must give up something. The teen may feel a little upset and you may feel a little sad, but overall everyone should be OK with the new schedule. Plan to meet in about two months to see how it’s going and agree to reassess it for the summer, vacation, or as needed. Good luck.




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