Prior to the teen years, co-parents often reside pretty close to the center of their child’s universe. Ideally, parents communicate with each other to determine the best custody schedule for their children — and themselves. Adult commitments, like job schedules, distance, and childcare arrangements rank among top considerations to determine details for joint custody arrangements.
Why a custody schedule might change with teens
The teen years change everything. Teens expand their peer circle in leaps and bounds during these years, which often affects their satisfaction with custody arrangements. Even with a successful long-term custodial agreement in place, teens form their own opinions about where they want to be — and when.
Things to consider when changing shared custody arrangements
Even if you’re happy with — and feel comfortable about — the schedule you share with your co-parent, keep an open mind about your child’s request. Teens focus heavily on time with their peers, and allowing them to spend time with their friends shouldn’t be dictated by a custody schedule determined years ago.
Extracurricular activities, like sports practices and service projects, take up more time than they did in the past. An increased academic load often leads to a desire to stay in one place for a longer time. A custody schedule involving 2 or 3 days at each co-parent’s home might seem clunky to a busy teen. Consider larger chunks of time at each home. Make sure to attend games, concerts, and other extracurricular events for extra time with your child.
Always important, communication between co-parents takes center stage during teen years. Curfews, dating, and driving involve negotiation, responsibility, and trust. Co-parents should talk about their comfort levels with the tricky developments, including potential consequences for breaking rules, before teens wade too far into unfamiliar waters.
Deciding about a part-time job
Some pre-teens start working as mother’s helpers or counselors-in-training at camps they’ve attended for years. However, most young people don’t make major decisions about part-time jobs until they reach their teen years. Both co-parents should be involved in the decision about getting a job.
Employment needs might require a shift in the decided-upon custody schedule, and co-parents may find themselves responsible for transportation to or from a job. If a conversation hasn’t already popped up about your teen wanting their own car, a job just might be the catalyst that starts the conversation. Again, co-parents should talk about car ownership on their own before broaching it with their child. Insurance needs, gas money, and rules surrounding the car all need to be part of the discussion. Being on the same page about such a major responsibility will be crucial.
Discussing high-stakes future goals
By the time children reach their teen years, many co-parents have been through ups and downs of communication issues. Cooperation helped get through summer break custody arrangements and whether or not your child could quit piano lessons you desperately wanted him to continue. Now, though, talking about what the future holds involves higher stakes, ultimately discussing post-high school plans.
Consequently, which classes to take in high school, which extracurriculars to pursue, and whether or not to get a part-time job all affect those future plans. College, vocational school, a gap year? Each can be a fit for the right child, but it helps if co-parents present a united front about how and when those decisions should be made.
The bottom line for co-parents of teenagers
Like other stages of co-parenting, focus on respect and communication. Now, however, your children may want a greater level of control over the custody schedule. Instead of defaulting to past arrangements, keep an open mind about your teen’s request. You might be pleasantly surprised about their newfound responsibilities — and their new sense of maturity.