How to create an awesome parenting plan!
The best way to ensure you have a parenting plan that will work for both you and the other parent is to be able to agree upon a parenting schedule between the two of you rather than having a judge (who doesn’t know you and will only hear about your case for a very brief amount of time) throw something together that may or may not work out for either of you. It can be difficult trying to come up with a plan both you and the other parent are happy with, but if you’re intent on working together with your co-parent for the benefit of your kids to create a workable parenting plan, you’re headed in the right direction!
Not sure what to include in your parenting plan? Keep these tips in mind when putting together a plan that will work for you both and your children.
Keep the focus on your kids.
Divorce or separation can understandably create tension between two parents. Remember, your parenting plan is your guide map to help the two of you cooperate with each other and do what’s best for your children. Make sure your plan focuses on your kids’ needs by helping them transition smoothly into the changes ahead. It should also take each child’s age, personality, and any special needs into account. How adept are they in going through changes?
This doesn’t mean let the kids decide though.
It’s important, however, NOT to let the kids’ necessarily drive the car though – you and your co-parent should come up with what you two think is the best parenting schedule before you inform the kids of what it is or ask for their input. If you allow them to make the decisions it can do one of a few things: 1) It can make your kids feel stuck in the middle – like if they choose to spend time with one parent and not the other, they are making the “other” feel bad; 2) It can make them feel as though they are in charge and you are not – you do NOT want to set this precedence – kids learn quickly that they can play parents; 3) It leads to the potential question creeping in as to whether the other parent is putting undue influence on the children to say a certain thing; 4) If the kids don’t get what they want, they are bound to be upset by at least one of you, if not both of you.
Be thorough and specific.
Your parenting plan is not meant to be a suggestion, but a fixed set of rules that hold each one of you to your parental commitments. The general rule is that you and the other parent can agree to temporarily vary the terms of the parenting schedule if you both agree to the changes, but, if you cannot agree, the plan is what needs to be followed. We have seen parents who are getting along great enter into parenting plans as vague as “The Parties will cooperate to ensure they both have time with the children.” Something like this is great as long as you both are agreeing as to how much time you each get, but what happens if Mom suddenly thinks you have sufficient parenting time going from 3 nights a week to every other weekend? You should think of your plan as your insurance policy – if everything is going right, you can vary things, but if it goes wrong, you want something there to lay out your rights and responsibilities in black and white.
Your plan should also cover a wide range of eventualities while also focusing in on the little details, like who will pick up your kids from their extracurricular activities and who schedules doctor visits.
Key issues that you may want to include in your parenting plan are:
- Your parenting schedule. Outline how your kids will split up their stay in each of your homes, including who is in charge of transporting the kids between the two homes.
- Your decision-making process. Determine how you will make decisions about important issues like healthcare, education, and discipline for your children. Are you going to work together to make rules in both homes consistent? If so, what are those rules? What happens if an issue arises in one home – how do you deal with that? What about prescription medication – what happens if a doctor prescribes medication one of you does not agree with? How are you going to work these issues out?
- Financial responsibilities. Decide how you will cover your child’s costs of living, such as food, clothing, medical expenses, summer camps, and daycare expenses. Think about as your kids get older – cell phones, laptops, driver’s education, vehicle and insurance too.
- Holiday and vacation time. Think about where your children will spend holidays and special occasions, and how you will handle school breaks and vacations.
- Your rules of communication. Consider what forms of communication you will use to discuss issues with your co-parent, like email or online apps. Set up boundaries in case either one of you is away and wants to call, video chat, or write messages to your kids.
- Changes to your base plan. Do you want to lay out a method that the two of you have to go through in order to change your base plan?
- Social Media. Do you want specifics as to what the two of you will allow your child to do via social media?
- Traveling. How are you going to let the other parent know when you are traveling out of state with the kids? What will the two of you do if one of you wants to bring the kids out of the country? Are you in agreement to cooperate to get the kids passports? Who will hold the passports?
- Moving. Depending upon how often you each have time with the kids, how far away you life from one another may be very important. If you both see the kids every day, things would substantially change if one of you decided to move over an hour away. How are you going to deal with those types of issues?
Although your parenting plan is fixed, it should also provide for future changes and possible revisions of your parenting rules. The plan should include a method for accommodating short-term changes, like if one of you needs to fall back on a commitment because of work or an emergency. You can also anticipate long-term future changes by adding in a way to amend your plan in case one parent moves away, your child develops different needs, or your situation changes significantly in some other way. Remember though that unless a parenting plan is changed in court, the last judgment from the court is what is legally binding until a different order enters. If you’re changing your parenting plan in a manner that is more than temporary, you will want to have the changes recorded in court.
Ask a Professional
If you’d like trustworthy advice on your parenting plan or any other divorce-related issue, call O’Connor Family Law for guidance. Our friendly family attorneys will help you reach a favorable resolution that benefits you and your kids. We have the upperhand in that we’ve been through divorces ourselves and have seen how parenting plans play out in reality. We can help you come up with a plan that will attempt to keep you out of court in the future if you and your co-parent are not able to agree or get along.