Not every fairy tale wedding ends with happily ever after. When parents split up, it can be devastating for an entire family.
The first two years are especially difficult for children as they try to process the many changes happening all at once. Protect your children from added stress by creating a parenting plan with your former spouse.
What is a Parenting Plan?
Parenting plans are helpful for everyone. Parents have the chance to talk through a co-parenting strategy together and the court proceedings can move more efficiently if parents agree beforehand.
Parents who can’t agree on a plan will likely end up with a parenting plan assigned to them by a judge. Judges don’t know your children or spouse personally and can’t always give a fair assessment of what’s best for your family.
What is a parenting plan but a chance to ensure your children remain stable during the split? Working out a system with your spouse in advance means keeping your children emotionally grounded while they work through any grief.
The goal of a parenting plan is cooperation. Make sure the plan works for both parties to avoid later conflicts that could land you both back in court.
What Should I Include in My Parenting Plan?
In order for a parenting plan to be effective, it must be detailed. Families have complex schedules and needs that can be quickly summed up by ‘splitting it down the middle.’
Get specific about your expectations moving forward. Here are three sections to include in your parenting plan to help you get started:
The biggest thing to manage during a family split is time. Time spent with a child is how you physically care for them.
Let the child’s schedule set the general structure for how daily schedules are created. For example, children enrolled in after school activities might stay late into the evening or go in early mornings for tutoring.
Parents should aim to keep the schedule as stable as possible during their split to avoid disruption. Write down where the children will be each day and for what time frames.
Discuss which of you can most easily take on each time frame until the entire weekly schedule is covered. Even if one parent provided the primary childcare in the past, most courts like to see children balance their time between parents.
This doesn’t mean your parenting plan should result in a 50/50 time split. You may need to get creative to accommodate one parent’s schedule.
For example, a parent who travels often for work might opt to take the children for an entire summer to make up for time lost. Make sure the schedule is easy for both parents to access.
Decide on a way to make updates to it over time. A phone conversation could easily be forgotten down the road.
Make sure all changes are in writing to avoid potential conflict and ensure the child doesn’t miss time with one parent. Shared digital calendars provided through email services or apps are a great option for tracking.
Create a spreadsheet of child-related expenses. Child support will become a factor during your divorce proceedings, but in advance of that decision, you can ensure financial stability for your family.
Split the child’s expenses based on what makes the most sense for you short term then create a second version for the long term. This is helpful when one spouse works and the other one stays home.
It gives the stay-at-home spouse a chance to get financially stable and begin taking on more responsibilities more gradually. Make decisions in writing about variable expenses like whether or not to continue with an expensive soccer academy or music lessons.
Make sure both you and your partner agree to the terms before continuing long term, child-related expenses. An overextended spouse might fall short on monthly bills creating instability for the child.
Factor in both parents’ tax situation when thinking of medical expenses and childcare expenses. One parent might get full reimbursement of medical from an employer that can save the family money in the long run.
Plan for big decisions early. Grief worsens during the holidays which can make divorcing parents more emotional.
Don’t assume your regular parenting schedule applies to the holidays or around milestone events. Talk about where the children will spend Christmas or birthdays.
If you are religious, discuss major events that might require you to have the child during your partner’s scheduled time. The more you have in writing, the easier it’ll be to resolve misunderstandings.
Alternate major holidays that both parents celebrate. Track on a calendar who gets which year to help you and your children remember where they will be each year.
When to Get Lawyers Involved
In some high profile cases or when a question of safety is involved, you might want to consult with an attorney before or after you create your parenting plan.
Sensitive issues like one spouse’s wealth or mental instability creates a new set of barriers to overcome when making a plan. Most co-parenting plans assume spouses view one another as equal parents who can make sound decisions when it comes to the children.
A lawyer can provide a second opinion on how to communicate certain expectations to your spouse that you would have trouble doing on your own. Know that attorney fees can quickly escalate so have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish before setting up a consultation.
The Road Ahead
Every transitioning family needs a parenting plan. A parenting plan makes sure that you and your spouse create the healthiest environment for your children no matter how you feel about each other.
Divorce hurts, but the children will recover quickly in a nurturing, loving environment. For more information and legal advice, visit our blog for updates.