There will always be obstacles to navigate when co-parenting with an ex-spouse, but add an active teenager seeking independence to this mix and parents could find themselves in a three-way showdown: Mom vs. Dad vs Teenager. Navigating the teen years and a divorce custody schedule can be made easier by following these five tips:
- Put the Needs of the Teen First
It bears repeating: the teen’s needs, not their wants. Every parent of a teen knows that their own schedules can sometimes rank second to their teen’s schedule and it’s no different in a co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. It is all too easy to say, “The court paperwork says Johnnie should be with ME on Friday night,” but what if Johnnie is starring in his high-school football game during YOUR time? This is the time parents should “take the high road” and allow their teen to pursue their activities without parents bickering over paragraphs in a court order. That said, it is important to distinguish between a child’s wants and needs before giving their final say in every decision, which leads to the next point.
- Parents Are Still in Charge
Georgia law says that a 14-year-old can make a Custody Election or choose with which parent they would prefer to live. This power, in the hands of a 14-year old, could lead to a young teen trying to manipulate parents by threatening to file such an election if one parent doesn’t do X or another does Y. The teen needs to know that parents are still in charge and this type of coercion is not allowed. So how can parents avoid this issue?
- Families Agree on Important Rules
It is one thing for a parent to be more lax than the other on housecleaning and chores, but there can be serious consequences for parents who have polar opposite rules on major teenage issues, such as driving privileges, appropriate dating ages, and spending money. These topics were most likely NEVER included in court paperwork. However, by creating an “Addendum” to the custody paperwork that ALL of the parties sign (both parents and teen), it makes clear to everyone what is expected on these key life issues. And don’t forget establishing rules on major teen possessions such as cars, cell phones, iPads, etc.
- Families Agree on Important Privileges
Just as rules help establish guidelines, outlining the privileges teens have and how they “earn” those privileges will go a long way. Is your child a straight-A student who wants to study abroad their senior year? Do you allow this opportunity? Is your child a star athlete who has been invited to a summer training camp out of state – again, do you allow this? Or what about a motivated child who finds work prior to age 16 in modeling, acting, or even inventing their own software? Parents like to tell their kids to shoot for the stars, but it is important not to allow custody arrangements and negative emotions toward the other parent to thwart their teens’ ambitions. Having a good set of “Rights and Responsibilities” that are agreed on by mother, father and teen will give teens the grounding and security they need to develop into responsible, independent adults.
- Parents Agree When to “Circle the Wagons”
With serious teen issues such as drugs, alcohol, crime, eating disorders, self-harm or other destructive behaviors, ex-spouses need to know when to stop their own in-fighting and come together to provide the love and support their teen needs to heal. These issues can be difficult to overcome for teens who have loving, bonded parents supporting them, so imagine how divisive ex-spouses can aggravate an already fragile situation. This is another instance in which parents should put the needs of their teens before everything else.
No one can predict all the issues that parents will face while raising their teens, but we at the Shaw Law Firm are here to help modify custody schedules, create teen “Addendums” to existing custody schedules, and handle other custody matters as they arise. The teen years go by quickly, so making this time as enjoyable as possible is a reward for any parent and their teens!
Scott Shaw is founder and principle of Shaw Law Firm PC, founded in 1995 and dedicated solely to divorce, family law and child custody matters that must be addressed and decided in the state of Georgia. Shaw Law Firm serves the greater Metro Atlanta area, particularly the counties of Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth, Paulding, Henry, Fayette, Coweta, Newton, Walton, Bartow and Douglas. Schedule a consultation today at 770-594-8309 or contact us.