A Parenting Plan – Things to Keep in Mind

Parents often come to see us to help them develop a Parenting Plan for their child or children.  If you are separating or getting divorced, using mediation to help sort out the confusing aspects of developing a plan and making sure the plan is comprehensive and workable is a good idea.  Whether we are talking about small children or teenagers, while their needs may be different, it is always a good idea to have a plan in place to make the transition as stress free as possible.  This will be of great benefit to your child and an opportunity for you, as parents, to assume a new role: that of Parenting Partners.

When creating a parenting plan, there are some important things to keep in mind. 

A.  There is no credible research to support the notion that children cannot move back and forth between two homes.
B.  There is no research to support the notion that children cannot be with each of you at different times during the week or year.
C.  There is a lot of research concluding that children are harmed by parents who are in great conflict.  It is the level of conflict that causes the harm.
D.  It is important to realize that children want to know what is happening during a divorce.
E.  During a divorce or separation, your children need both of you more than ever before.

What do you need to think about prior to developing a Parenting Plan?

A.  What do YOU need for a successful parenting relationship with your children?
B.  What do YOUR CHILDREN need from the parenting plan you create?
C.  Do your children have special needs?  Do you  have any concerns about the children?
D. What do you need and expect from the other parent to have a successful parenting plan?

To get started on developing a parenting plan, it is important to discuss and develop standards of fairness with your parenting partner.  This is critical to developing a successful plan.  The standards of fairness you develop together will be the starting point for your new relationship as parenting partners.  It will give you the basis for building new communication skills and a spirit of cooperation.  The standard of fairness you agree on is your unique creation; if it works for both of you, that is what counts.  You will want to discuss the details of how you will communicate with each other in the future about issues concerning the children.

There are two components to a parenting schedule:  The weekly recurring schedule and the holiday schedule – which includes vacations, school breaks, and special arrangements for visiting with extended family, such as grandparents. Don’t be afraid to look at arrangements that may not have occurred to you before.  There is no right or wrong way to develop a schedule.  Your goal is to create a schedule that fits both parents’ work schedules and the children’s school/activities schedule.

Besides a parenting schedule, there are important topics to discuss relating to a parenting plan.

A.  Education 
How you will inform the school about the details and factual information of the divorce – separate residences and so forth.
      How you will learn about school events.
      How you will convey education concerns to the school.
      How you will address extracurricular activities (sports, music lessons, etc.).
      How you will share the costs and transportation responsibilities for those activities.
      How you will share the costs of higher education, if any.

You will need to determine who will provide future medical insurance and dental insurance coverage.  How will you pay for any future uncovered medical expenses?

Dating and Remarriage
You may wish to consider how each of you will introduce a new relationship to the children.  Establish some protocols to help the children in their adjustment.

Obtaining the Children’s Feedback
After you have reached a tentative agreement on a parenting schedule and child-related issues, you may wish to share with your children the arrangements you have made before finalizing the parenting plan.

Planning for Future Changes
You will want to consider a process for addressing future changes or problems in the parenting plan.  It is my experience that a parenting plan/schedule will not work forever, especially if your children are small when you separate.  After 3 or 4 years (or it could be sooner), you may find that your parenting plan is no longer meeting everyone’s needs.  This is a good time to go back to mediation to discuss what isn’t working and update your plan.

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