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Best parenting plans are business agreements, experts say

The U.S. Census Bureau's 2009 Marital Events of Americans survey revealed that the nationwide divorce rate dropped to its lowest level in 40 years. Divorce may have faded as a trend, but many children are still at the heart of visitation, support and child custody disputes.

Parents who divorce often have several emotionally charged issues to settle before living separate lives. Decisions about shared custody or arrangements for non-custodial parent visitations can be made part of a formal parenting plan. Experts say parents who take a more business-like approach by writing down specific plans for how they will raise their children will have a better chance of providing stability for their children.

One family therapist felt that divorced parents who viewed parenting plans as honorable business arrangements were less likely to drag children into psychological turmoil. Experts say parenting agreements that go beyond defining simply the financial and physical details of a plan and outline how children should be raised work best.

The therapist found that children of divorce who coped well had common traits that led back to parental behaviors. She observed that shared parenting, more than joint custody, was responsible for the successful adjustment of kids in divorced families.

A Wake Forest University psychology professor said that children who remained close to both parents responded better to divorce than children who favored one parent's affection. Instilling the closeness is part of the parental responsibility, from everyday interactions with kids to special vacations.

A parenting plan designed to cushion children's emotional fallout should focus on stability, according to experts. Physically changing where a child lives or goes to school can make a child feel insecure. Similarly, having a serious disparity between parents' rules of behavior, discipline and standards of living is jarring to children already coping with the loss of a united family.

Child psychologists say parental conflict is the main reason children of divorce have long-term troubles adjusting to the new lifestyle. Divorced parents can work together to make a written plan that fulfills more than the financial and custodial aspects.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "The Child-Focused Divorce," Elizabeth Bernstein, Sept. 6, 2011

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