Whatever disadvantages there may be to sitting down with your soon-to-be ex-spouse to work out a parenting plan there is one undeniable truth to keep you at the table: You two are the only people who truly know your children, their needs, the demands of all of your schedules and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each parent. By working together to make a plan that fits both your lives, you avoid a court’s cookie-cutter solutions. Hopefully, you also create a new framework for the active participation by each of you in the care and raising of your children. Remember, statistics show that parents who prepare a plan jointly are 80% more likely to comply with it than if a plan is imposed upon them by a third party. An experienced family law attorney can help you create a plan that is right for you and your family.
To make a parenting plan that works, family and divorce experts recommend crafting a plant that is both specific and flexible. You should create a workable system for dividing responsibilities so that the plan can work whether parents get along well or not. You can rotate primary responsibilities or you can agree to delegations when you agree that one parent has an issue covered. Be sure to include terms requiring each parent to treat each other with respect in front of the children or when they can overhear conversations. Determine how future conflicts will be resolved and build in periods of review and adjustment-usually after the first year and then every two or three years thereafter.
Items that should be included in every parenting plan include:
- Visitation/Shared Parenting Schedules
- Use a regular calendar and a school calendar to plan for and anticipate school breaks and holidays, summer vacations and weekend start and stops.
- Define when holidays start and end.
- Remember to include days like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day and birthdays.
- Create a formula for anticipatable events that will work for the first one to two years of the plan’s life.
- Don’t forget to include drop-off and pick-up times and locations.
- Access for both parents to medical and school records, teachers and activities
- Make sure both parents have the right to make emergency medical decisions.
- Child support payments and inclusions
- Include what is covered and who gets the tax deductions.
- Designate whether payment will be made directly or through state support divisions.
- Make sure the paying spouse has adequate life insurance to cover support obligations in case of a sudden death.
- Designate which parent is responsible for costs associated with children’s ongoing medical and dental insurance and related expenses.
- Don’t forget childcare, education and extra-curricular activity expenses and whether they will be paid directly to the provider.
- Address how you will deal with delinquent payments.
- Travel details and expenses when parents live in different states
- Be specific if there are age-related travel concerns or other requirements.
- State any restriction on domestic or international travel.
- Changes and Notifications
- Draft a set of rules for how you will deal with changes like special events or unanticipated business travel.
- Set up a system that gives the other parent notice on a considerate basis when making long term plans or changes in address, telephone number or employment.
- Include notice provisions for school activities, events, and conferences.
- Establish how notice will be given of new childcare providers, children’s location during visitation and new relationships or people present during time with children.
And Don’t Forget….
Parents end up back in court when they fail to plan for events in the future. Make sure your parenting plan contains provisions that address:
- Future moves to different states
- Elective medical/dental procedures like orthodontics
- Impact of loss of employment or disability
- Methods and timeline for child support review
- College selection and expenses
- Adjusting visitation based on children’s ages
To ensure you have adequately addressed all appropriate custody issues, you should review your parenting plan with an experienced family law attorney prior to agreeing to a final version or having it entered as an order by the court.