How Parenting Plans May Change as Kids Get Older

Father and Son Having Fun in Park
July 24, 2019
|   updated:
July 23, 2023

Although parents might not want them too, children grow up.  As the gap between childhood and adolescence rapidly closes, children will try to open the door to independence, and divorced parents may find that their previously established parenting plans don’t make it over the threshold. While the exact age at which this will occur varies from child to child, North Carolina Family Law Attorney Christopher Adkins says its common for parents to begin altering parenting plans when children are between the ages of 12-14 years old in order to reflect their changing needs. Children can influence these decisions, but as minors, it’s up to parents to lead the change. For parents that are looking to adapt their parenting plans, a good rule of thumb is to allow the plan to grow with the children as they navigate through life’s stages.

How Adolescent Plans Vary from Those of Younger Children

A joint-custody parenting plan for parents with younger children is a 50-50 split with frequent exchanges, Adkins says. Children ages 3-5 years do well with consistency and predictability, and they’re likely to get attached to regular caregivers. As a result, a parenting plan for children of this age should allow contact with both parents on a dedicated time frame, typically involving exchanges every few days.

School age children of 6-12 years, on the other hand, have a foothold on their independence as they’re more accustomed to separating from their parents during the school day. At this age, children are very flexible in their development and more able to adapt to a creative parenting plan, because they have more of a concept of time and routine. During this point in childhood, parents can choose to give their children a calendar that shows designated parenting times and activities the children are involved in.

As children transition into their teenage years, they start to develop a sense of personal identity with respect to society, school and friends. It is common as children to gradually separate from parents and family while they grow accustomed to this newfound sense of independence and develop a sense of self. While it may be difficult, it’s important for parents to talk to their children and one another about the effectiveness and logic of their parenting plan. Alterations may be needed to accommodate the teenager’s involvement in sports or extracurricular activities, the teenager’s desire to spend time with friends and the teenager’s preference for whose house they’d like to spend more time at.

It’s especially important for parents and teenagers to go over ground rules once teenagers have their license. Parents should be on the same page when it comes to curfews so that transitions between households are easier and parents feel more secure about their child’s safety and whereabouts when they are not with them. At this stage, teenagers may also take it upon themselves to visit the other parent at their own discretion. Depending on the family situation, this type of independence may be permitted as long as parents know where they are.

When Alcohol Use Disorder is Involved

As children become more cognitively aware of their surroundings, they are more likely to recognize if one parent is abusing alcohol and tell their other parent. No matter the scenario, if a child expresses this type of concern, it will likely be warranted by the other parent and certainly by the court of law. One solution to this situation, which Adkins recommends to both the both parents, is Soberlink. As the leader in remote alcohol monitoring, Soberlink allows parents to document their sobriety during their own unique testing schedules. Parents can choose to engage in flexible monitoring with Soberlink’s Level 1 – Parenting Time Only Program, which requires the parent to test only during parenting time, or consistent monitoring with Soberlink’s Level 2 – Daily Testing Program, that requires the parent to test whether they have their child or not. Soberlink gives peace of mind that parents are sober when they have their children, Adkins says.

Examples of Parenting Plans for Adolescents

The goal of parenting plans designed for teenagers, ages 12-18 years old, is to encourage a balance that promotes the teenager’s independence while maintaining close contact with both parents. While a variety of factors will affect family’s unique situations and custody arrangements, here are a few options for adolescent parenting plans that Custody X Change suggests.

  • Alternating Weeks Schedule: Teenager alternates weeks with parents.
  • Alternating Weekends Schedule: Teenager has a “home base” and lives with one parent primarily and sees the other parent every other weekend.
  • Assigned Weekends Schedule: Teenager lives with one parent and has assigned weekends with the other parent, which can include the 1st, 3rd and 5th weekend or 2nd, 4th and 5th weekend for parents/teenagers who prefer one set of back-to-back weekends.
  • Two Weeks Each Schedule: Teenager goes to their other parent’s house every two weeks. This works well for teenagers who are more comfortable staying with each parent for a longer amount of time.

There are a wide range of factors that can spark the need for a change in parenting plans as children get older and become more capable of expressing their wants and needs. During the sometimes-tumultuous adolescent years, it’s important that parents promote open communication with their children. If the children express desired amendments to parenting time and parents ignore this, they may become angry or resentful. While it may be difficult to take in the fact that children are growing up, taking the proper steps to adapt parenting plans will make it easier to get through children’s teenage years before they enter adulthood.

About the Author

Soberlink supports accountability for sobriety through a comprehensive alcohol monitoring system. Combining a breathalyzer with wireless connectivity, the portable design and technology includes facial recognition, tamper detection and real-time reporting. Soberlink proves sobriety with reliability to foster trust and peace of mind.

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