When a new client and I are discussing the custody evaluation process during that parent’s first appointment, two of the most frequently asked questions are, “What will happen during the parent/child observation?” and, “Will you be doing a home visit?” These two questions and the anxiety in the parent’s voice are a sure sign that this particular parent has done some Internet research because parent/child observations and home visits are frequently mentioned on websites devoted to custody and family law evaluations.
One of the most difficult issues for children following their parents’ divorce is learning how to successfully negotiate the parenting plan transitions between households as they travel back and forth between parental homes. Most children at a very young age are able to learn and adapt to the fact that there are different behavioral expectations in various settings. For example, children quickly learn that certain home behaviors may not be allowed in the kindergarten classroom. What they might be allowed to do in their own backyard might not be appropriate at their grandparents’ home. Expectations for their public behavior at the grocery store are often quite different from what they are allowed to do in the family room. This type of adaptation is not particularly stressful for most children.
In the past 20 years or so, divorcing fathers have been stepping forward in ever increasing numbers with a strong and genuine request to remain involved in their children’s lives despite what may have gone wrong in their marriage. There are several reasons for this change. Some of this is due to very positive societal changes in regard to the abandonment of what have been traditional roles for fathers and mothers within the family. Fathers have simply become more involved in all areas. Some of the change is also in response to the fathers’ rights movement. Change has additionally occurred as so many fathers have come to realize that the former bias against them in court has long since dissipated, and in many jurisdictions the bias simply no longer exists.
The State of Oregon actively encourages parents to involve themselves in the design of a parenting plan for their children in the post-divorce period. In this opinion piece, I want to share some general principles that enter into parenting plan design during a divorce with a custody and parenting plan dispute. There is really a very limited amount of parenting plan formats to choose from, and every effort is made to recommend a parenting plan that is uniquely suited to a particular family and the characteristics and developmental stages of the children. The concepts that are generally described within would not be relevant to those unusual circumstances where a parent’s time with the children must be severely limited or supervised for one reason or another.
This article is an explanation that I place in my court reports when the custody and parenting plan evaluation has also involved an analysis of a proposal by one parent to relocate with the children. In Oregon, the Court must be notified if a parent intends to move a child more than 60 miles from the child’s current residence. If the other parent fails to object, the Court does not need to do anything. However, if the other parent objects, the Court must make a decision to allow or disallow the proposed relocation. These are often very painful cases for all evaluation participants, for the attorneys, and for the Court.
Resolving a custody issue is sufficiently complex in and of itself. Adding a proposed relocation of a child makes for an even more difficult case for the Court and for everyone involved.
When I began conducting custody and parenting plan evaluations in 1978, a typical case file might end up being about an inch thick. Back then, almost all of the family data was gathered from the various interviews and the psychological testing, along with the gathering of school and therapy information as well as personal reference material. The cases were every bit as unique and complex as current cases, but the data gathering was more direct and specific as it might relate to the custody statute as it then existed.