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Custody Agreements for Older Teens Vital for Development

Custody agreements are always at the center of a parental divorce. For good reason, too: custody arrangements determine more than where the kids sleep every other weekend. It determines who provides the guidance and influence your child needs as they grow up. Which parent would you rather have be there for your child if they were being bullied? Or were going through their first heartbreak? Or were failing a math class?

More to the point, wouldn’t you want your child to have as many positive influences as possible—not just one?

Custody arrangements that favor one parent unfairly are not only bad for parents—they’re bad for the kids. As family lawyers, we’ve helped thousands of parents create mutually-fair and beneficial custody arrangements for their children. Our divorce attorneys craft and argue for parenting plans in Burlington, Southborough, Danvers, Dedham, and other communities throughout Massachusetts, so we know the local courts. Officially, judges do not automatically favor maternal custody, even for infants—both scientific and social thought leaders agree that it’s ideal to have both parents in a child’s life as equally as possible.

In fact, the data proves it.

No Matter What, Shared Parenting Is Key to Healthy Children

A study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that shared parenting is vital for the long-term health of the children. Children of divorce who spent at least 35 percent of their time with each parent got better grades, were more socially active, and were psychologically healthier.

Over time, the children with balanced parental time were less likely to smoke, binge drink, or use drugs. They were even mentally healthier, with lower rates of depression, anxiety, and stress-related conditions. In fact, these findings remained consistent for couples that initially resisted balanced custody—and children who received shared parenting remained healthier even if the parents fought all the time.

Custody Agreements Will Have Greater Impact on Your Child’s Future

Because custody arrangements also help create stronger parental ties through adulthood, the time you spend with your child is not just about their childhood development. It may contribute to their success as an adult now more than ever. In a CNN analysis of 7 large teen surveys, researchers found that teens today are less likely to drive, date, or leave the house without their parents than their counterparts 20 years ago.

Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University in Southern California, believes that recent data about teen behavior suggests teens are growing up more slowly than in previous generations. This “slow life strategy” has trade-offs: while teen sex, teen pregnancy, and teenage drinking are at historic lows, teenagers with part-time jobs have also reached historic low numbers.

Slow Development Isn’t Bad Development (Necessarily)

However, Twenge is quick to note that there’s no moral judgment attached to these findings—the growth into adulthood naturally adapts to the needs of the society. In her article, she mentions that her grandparents raised six children on a farm, meaning the kids often went without supervision and had to learn to fend for themselves rather quickly. In a world where parents provide for household needs without the children’s help (and also only have two children on average), kids will naturally have more time to develop and be children.

The downside is the expectation that your kids will be self-sufficient adults by 18 is likely outdated. College administrators have reported having students who were unable to make decisions without parental input. Job recruiters who hire fresh graduates are concerned that they may not be able to make independent decisions initially.

Other experts note that the rate of drinking among people aged 20-21 hasn’t changed, suggesting that teenagers are experiencing alcohol for the first time at college, in a context far away from parents. Some fear that lower rates of teenage drinking will just result in higher rates of binge drinking among college students: a key risk factor for alcohol dependence. Parents will need to have frank and honest discussions about alcohol prior to college if they want their children to be prepared.

What This Means for You as a Parent

Your role as a parent comes with a longer time commitment than it used to. We’re not suggesting that you’ll need to be a helicopter parent, but the data shows that your guidance and input might be crucial for longer than in previous generations. The process of guiding your children into adulthood is going to either a.) take longer to accommodate the trend, or b.) take more effort to buck the trend. Your relationship with your child as they pass into adulthood will be more important for the future health and success—which means building the foundation of a healthy relationship is absolutely crucial.

If you’re considering divorce or have just been served divorce papers, the decisions and agreements you make now will shape your child’s life for decades. Hiring the right lawyer, who understands the stakes of what you’re facing and how to best fight for your interests and the interests of your child, is the first step. Miller Law Group, P.C. offers free consultations to help you understand your legal options, what obstacles you’re facing, and the best way to ensure a fair and beneficial parenting arrangement for your child. Our Burlington divorce lawyers serve families in Danvers, Southborough, and throughout Massachusetts. With office locations all over the state, we're only a short drive away.

For help with your custody arrangement, call (888) 874-2142 or use our short form to discuss your case. Our team utilizes vocational experts, educational experts, custody evaluators, and other professionals to ensure your child’s long-term health and well-being.

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