When you’re going through a divorce and have children, some of the most important decisions that will be made are those concerning child support and child custody. During the divorce process, you and your ex will also likely develop a parenting plan. In some cases, this will be worked out between the parents and their lawyers. In others, the courts or a mediator will facilitate the creation of your parenting plan.
What Is a Parenting Plan?
The parenting plan is designed to outline how parents will share custody of their children. Custody refers both to whom the children will live with and who has legal control. Both physical and legal custody can be shared jointly, or one parent can be given sole physical or legal custody. Just because one parent is granted sole physical custody doesn’t mean they also have sole legal custody. It is also recommended that parents include a visitation schedule.
Depending on your situation, the courts may require you to submit a parenting plan as part of your custody case. Speak with your attorney to determine if this is the case for you.
Why You Should Have a Parenting Plan
Even if your situation does not require a parenting plan, it is helpful to develop one when you are working out your custody agreement. Divorce is difficult, and we know that discussing parenting matters can be painful. However, there are many benefits to developing a parenting plan right at the start of your divorce.
The benefits of establishing a parenting plan include:
- Communication between you and your ex-spouse is facilitated
- Ground rules for co-parenting can be established
- Uncertainty and disagreements about parenting issues can be cleared up
- You and your ex-spouse can get on the same page regarding how you will parent post-divorce
- Your co-parenting relationship is strengthened
- Your children’s best interests are put front and center
After a divorce, parenting becomes even more complicated. Even something as simple as taking your kids to visit relatives requires more planning. Additionally, after a divorce, communicating with your ex can be a fraught process. Emotions are still running high, and even simple conversations with an ex can be painful. By establishing a parenting plan as part of your divorce process, misunderstandings can be avoided, and co-parenting can be a bit easier.
What to Include in a Parenting Plan?
After you have made custody decisions, you should consider putting your visitation schedule in your parenting plan. With this, you can also specify how your children will travel between parents. For example, will one parent drop them off at the other parent’s house? Perhaps you will meet each other at a designated meeting place. Consider what will work best for your family and what will encourage stability and consistency.
Having a schedule already established can provide your family with much-needed stability post-divorce. As you all adjust to your new lives, things can become hectic, and having a visitation schedule on file can help relieve some of the stress.
Figuring out holiday schedules can be particularly challenging. Read our blog on how to effectively co-parent over the holidays for more support.
As part of your visitation schedule, you should also address what will happen when scheduling conflicts arise. While we can do our best to plan, there will be times when the schedule needs to change. This can cause a lot of anxiety for parents and children alike. Having protocols in place for how scheduling conflicts will be dealt with can give everyone peace of mind.
Co-parenting is really tough. One of the best things you can do is work to have more open communication with your ex. After a divorce, this can seem impossible. Your parenting plan offers a good opportunity to identify how you and your ex will communicate regarding your children’s needs. Even in the most difficult situations, simply outlining what methods of communication are preferred and how your children will contact you when they are with the other parent can make a big difference.
How You Will Tackle Major Decisions or Life Changes
As time goes on, things will change for all of you. Your children’s needs will change as they get older. Consequently, issues will arise that are difficult to anticipate. For example, deciding what high school to send your kids to may seem clear now, but often things are very different when the time comes. Planning how you and your ex will approach major life decisions or changes in your children’s lives can help make these transitions easier.
Relatedly, your parenting plan also offers a chance to outline your preferences when it comes to introducing stepparents or significant others to your children. While this may be the furthest thing from your mind right now, you never know what the future holds, and thinking it through now can benefit everyone.
Though you are probably not thinking about taking a vacation while you are in the middle of a divorce, you will likely want to take a family vacation with your kids down the road. A strong parenting plan will also designate rules or guidelines for traveling with your children. Some things to discuss include whether the other parent will require written consent before the trip occurs, how much notice must be given to the other parent, and how interstate or international travel should be handled.
Tips for Co-Parenting With Your Ex
Of course, co-parenting effectively with your ex-spouse might be a little easier said than done. If this change in family dynamics is still relatively new for you, the idea of co-parenting with your ex probably sounds daunting.
To set you on the right path, we compiled a list of useful tips that will help make co-parenting with your former spouse a little easier:
- Engage in some self-reflection: Before you start focusing on the outward work that needs to be done, look inward and try to acknowledge and fix the habits within that need changing. Spend some time on your own and ask yourself who you want to become, not only for your children, but for yourself. The fact is that it takes two for a marriage to fail, so it is important to understand your part in it and what you can do to ensure your relationship as co-parents goes more smoothly.
- Do not let others partake in decision-making when it comes to your children: Sure, it might be helpful to hear other opinions, but decisions regarding your children should only be made by you and your co-parent. When you start letting others weigh in, especially new partners, it can create a whole new set of problems that can further strain your relationship as co-parents.
- Set positive intentions for your relationship as co-parents: It might seem hard to believe now, but at one point, your former spouse was someone whom you loved and cared for. Remember that you do not have to be an enemy to one another simply because your marriage did not work out. Instead of being determined to hate your ex-spouse forever, set your intention to work together as a team to raise your children. You both still have a common goal to see them be happy, healthy individuals.
- Do not make your new partner’s needs and feelings a concern for your co-parent: Your new partner is important to you, but his or her needs are not exactly relevant to your former spouse, so do not try to dump them on your co-parent. If your new partner has something to say about your relationship with your co-parent, this is an issue you need to handle yourself. Your priority is your children and how you can both care for them, so avoid trying to steer the focus elsewhere.
Schedule a Case Review with an Experienced Child Custody Attorney!
These are just a few suggestions on how to develop a successful parenting plan. The Hudson Valley child custody attorneys at Letterio & Haug, LLP have helped countless parents through this difficult process. We are prepared to use our experience to help you. Contact our office to schedule an appointment with an experienced attorney today.