Serving the needs of separated and divorcing families

What is a Good Living Arrangement for an Adolescent After Separation and Divorce?

Range of Possibilities

Living arrangements for an adolescent after separation and divorce can incorporate a range of possibilities. When creating parenting time schedules, it is important for parents to be flexible and consider the teen’s quest for independence, and the ability to care for their own needs. Multiple factors including the adolescent’s temperament, activities, employment, peer involvement, ongoing commitments to sports and the need for unstructured time need to be taken into consideration.  Likewise, it is important to maintain the teen’s accessibility to school, peers, extracurricular and community activities from both parents’ residences. Other factors to include are the distance between homes, and each parent’s work schedule and other obligations.

While teenagers want to be included in the decision-making, early adolescents (13 to 15 years of age) may not be mature enough to make decisions regarding their living arrangements and such a decision would certainly create undue pressure on the child. However, many older adolescents (15 to 17 years of age) are adamant about how their living arrangement should be structured. An older adolescent may resist a rigid parenting time schedule. Due to their increased freedom associated with their driver’s license, it is potentially problematic not to develop a definite schedule so that both parents know where their child is on any given night. Therefore, parents should consult with older teens regarding their ideas for their living arrangements but must make it clear that ultimately it is up to the adults to make the final parenting time decisions.

Time Arrangements

Depending on the circumstances of the family and the teen’s activities and commitments, adolescents between the ages of 13 and 15 are capable of spending extended time away, such as the majority of the summer, from the residential parent. Most teens can tolerate every weekend away from the residential parent; however, an every weekend schedule can create an arrangement where one parent is responsible for all the school related responsibilities and the other parent becomes the “fun” parent. Other adolescents may be comfortable with one to three weekends of parenting time per month with the non-residential parent, depending upon the child’s schedule, distance, and capacity to travel. Time during the week can be frequent and flexible if there is little conflict demonstrated between the parents and as long as the teen maintains an acceptable level of academic performance.

Some older adolescents prefer one primary home, as it is less confusing for themselves and their friends. For many of these teens, they will want weekends or evenings at the other home scheduled on a regular and predictable basis that is flexible to allow for the teen’s activities. Unless there is a significant geographical problem or conflict with one parent, adolescents may be comfortable spending a balanced, fifty-fifty schedule with their parents, including up to two weeks at each residence. A teen’s desire to have equal access to each of their parents will depend on the prior history of the relationship with each parent as well as the ability of the parent to meet their needs. Due to a number of variables including the age of the siblings, work and sports commitments, peer activities as well as the adolescent’s wishes, teens may require a different schedule from their siblings.

Some adolescents may legitimately request a change in residence, due to their continued need for independence and autonomy. This may or may not be in their best interest. Other adolescents may request a change in residence because of their desire for more lenient rules and less supervision. It is important that parents communicate with each  other about the teenager. Parents may want to discuss things like curfews, driving, and dating to make sure they are consistent across households.

Since parents are likely to lose time with their teen because of the teen’s need to be with friends and involved in other activities, parents can increase their connection with their children by regularly attending their child’s functions. The teen should be allowed to attend activities no matter which home they are currently residing in. Therefore, your plan should be flexible because the teen’s activities may conflict with parenting time.

For more details on specific adolescent parenting time schedules visit

Arizona Supreme Court Parenting Time Guidelines at:

https://www.azcourts.gove/Portals/31/Parenting Time/ PPWguidelines.pdf

Ann Marie Termini, Ed.S., M.S., LPC

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