Serving the needs of separated and divorcing families

Writing an Effective Parenting Plan

So you think you have worked out a great divorce settlement? You have created a plan based upon factors that make real sense to you. Maybe you created a plan based upon your child’s current age or your desire to not interrupt your child’s school schedule. Maybe you and your co-parent are friendly so you wrote your plan based upon your current co-parenting relationship or maybe around your current work schedule. Then there are those who come to the table wanting to negotiate based upon their guilt about the failed marriage. None of these are a good plan. You must think about the negative impact of making decisions based upon any of these factors. It is essential that your mediator help you to consider the “what ifs” of each of these. When considering the plan you think is so well crafted, ask yourself, how might this plan become a problem in the future? How might our situation change over-time? What am I over-looking?

Schedules Based Upon Your Child’s Age:

Parenting time schedules that work for an infant with brief and frequent contact will clearly not work for a school age child. Divorcing parents must create a phased plan to address each phase, the infant phase, preschool phase, early school age and older child’s needs. If you wait until your child is older to modify the plan it will require you start over. If the two of you are unable to make the necessary changes you will have to keep the original schedule until you return to court. It is difficult to image your infant as a ten year old or teenager but it is essential that your mediator help you to do so.

In an effort to address this problem, some parents put in a clause that says they will “revisit their agreement” every year to make sure the schedule is working. What happens if one parent wants to revise the schedule and the other does not? Even if the plan says they will return to mediation, this does not necessarily resolve the problem. It is naive and dangerous to leave your plan open ended. If you create a phased plan, be specific and identify the actual date the schedule will change. Since the child’s school year generally starts in August, you may want the shift to occur on August 1st. Another option is to use the beginning of the summer or the child’s actual birthday as the place in which the child’s new parenting time begins. Keep in mind that many states will not allow Judges to create a plan that changes at different points; however, parents can do so if they settle and avoid court. This is why parents with an infant or young child should work very hard to settle out of court with a good mediator or child’s specialist.

Schedules Based Upon Your Child’s School Schedule:

You feel strongly that your child should not have their school week interrupted, so you decide to create a parenting schedule that allows the other parent to have every weekend. Over time you will hate this plan and your child will complain that they do not get any fun time with you. Sure it sounds great in theory but you must consider how any plan may play out over time. Imagine you are now remarried and your spouse has two children. The stepchildren will likely be with you every other weekend but your own child will not get to spend any fun weekends with you, their step parent or their new siblings. Will you try to minimize your weekend fun? Will your child become jealous of the time you have with the new siblings? Yes and yes!

There is a good chance that you will become the parent handling all of the school requirements and appointments while the other parent has all of the fun time. You will likely be more of the disciplinarian, address most of the homework, sick days and enforce responsibilities. The other parent will appear like the Disney parent. What if your child has a friend in your neighborhood that wants them to spend the night but your child will be required to get the other parent’s permission? This arrangement will not only set you up as the bad guy, it will wear on your fatigue and create resentment towards your co-parent. Consider at least a first, third and fifth weekend for the other parent but not every single weekend.

Schedules Based Upon Your Work Schedule:

Some parents propose all the weekends to the other parent due to their own work schedule. Let’s say you work as nurse but only on the weekends. So of course you are considering that you would keep the children for all school days and offer the other parent all the weekends. However, what if your work schedule changes in the future or you remarry and become a stay at home mother. The same happens to parents who are going back to school and need to study on the weekends. If the plan is based upon a temporary requirement such as graduate school, it will need to be modified in a couple years. Think ahead and build in a shift in the schedule after you graduate and no longer need the weekends off. Some parents build in an alternate parenting time schedule in the event they are able to get a different job that does not require weekend hours.

Schedules Based Upon Your Guilt:

Ponder this scenario- you want the divorce and are very anxious to move on because you have already found your next significant other. Maybe you have had an affair and you feel guilty about “breaking up the family.” As a result, you have been completely agreeable allowing the children to remain with the other parent more than you would like. You will more than likely be overly generous in the financial settlement. Guilty spouses are at risk of giving away the farm just to be released from an unhappy marriage and the guilt they feel.

You may feel better doing this but I promise you it will come back to bite you in the behind! Your next spouse will be very angry with you when they learn how much you are paying the other parent. “You pay her what?” They will likely see you as passive or worse yet, foolish which will not be helpful to your new relationship. Over time, what was done as kindness or guilt will not sit well with you either.

Schedules Based Upon Your Current Co-parenting Relationship:

You are very lucky because the two of you are getting along extremely well. You do not expect your relationship to ever change because you are both focused on your child. You pride yourself in being a positive person but remember that the two of you once planned to remain married forever too. Things can change so it is foolish to create your plan based upon your current relationship. The biggest changes in co-parenting come when one parent remarries or plans to move far away. What if one of you falls in love with someone who is over-involved and tries to create conflict between the two of you? You cannot imagine it now but it may happen. The ability to envision the future and think about the “what ifs,” the better your plan will be.

You need a parenting plan that you can both throw in a drawer and never need to look at. Then if you have even a small conflict the answer will be spelled out in your plan. A smart plan is like a good net under a trapeze or tightrope walker. They don’t plan to use their net, just like you don’t plan to use your seat belt but you would never go out without one. It is wise to have a net that is well crafted so that loop holes are closed to avoid future conflict. This means thinking outside the box of where you are currently in the above scenarios. Be smart and think your plan through before signing.

Watch for my follow up blog with sample parenting plan language that will help you address the “what ifs” that might be over-looked when creating your safety net.

Read our Parenting Plan Checklist

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