Figuring out how to create a parenting plan can be daunting. There can be so many issues to think about, and figuring out what you even want can feel confusing. When you’re already going through the emotional roller coaster of divorce, parenting plans can become overwhelming fast. Follow these simple steps to make sure you’re writing a parenting plan that’s thorough, accurate, and in the best interest of you and your family. Keep in mind that hiring a professional to assist you in this process is always advised. When parenting plans are only written and signed by the parties involved there can be important details overlooked and they are more vulnerable in court.
Start with the kids in mind
Keep a child-centered approach and think about your children’s needs. Obviously, this is going to involve making sure their physical needs are met, such as shelter, clothing, and food, but also their more complicated needs. Think about doctor’s appointments, sporting events, summer camp, or any other activities. If your child has special needs, think about any therapies, medications, or appointments they need.
Before you even start assigning care tasks, simply start by making a list of everything that may need to be delegated to one parent or another. That can include costs, transportation, filling out paperwork, taking them shopping, making dinner — everything that your kids need, write it out.
Evaluate parent schedules
If your co-parent is on call for work 24/7, then having them take over transportation to and from appointments probably isn’t going to be realistic for your family. If you work at 5am every morning, driving the kids to school probably isn’t going to be in the cards for you. Establish the ways in which each parent is available, writing out the schedule and needs of each parent clearly.
Be honest with yourself about what is and isn’t reasonable. It can be hard to admit you can’t provide for your child for everything they need, but creating a sustainable parenting plan is going to rely upon both parents owning up to the ways in which they would need support taking care of your family.
Think through possible strategies and evaluate
Now that you have both the list about child care needs and the list of parent availability in front of you, it’s going to be much easier to start thinking through possible care options. Start simply by brainstorming – don’t worry too much about getting it perfect on the first go, just start writing down a draft of a plan to start working through it.
Keep reevaluating options as they come up and think of them through the lens of you, your children, and your co-parent. Some options may seem most convenient for you and your co-parent, but may not be in the best interest of your kids, and vice versa. For example, 50/50 custody with every-other-day custody can often seem like a simple solution for custody for a lot of parents. However, consider if that kind of option is going to work best for your kids. Having an inconsistent home environment throughout the school week can be really challenging for a lot of kids, especially younger children or children who struggle with attention, focus, and attachment. Consider alternative custody solutions, like a biweekly rotation or a 2/2/3 rotation so kids can spend more time at each household before switching again.
Make sure to cover the small stuff
It never hurts to include nitpicky details in your parenting plan. Create contingency plans for when something goes wrong. How would you like to negotiate a change in plans with your co-parent if one of you needs to reschedule or has an emergency? Do you have a plan in place for who will get the kids for special holidays, like Mother’s Day, Halloween, or even spring break? Who is responsible for dropping them off at summer camp or picking them up from school when they’re sick?
Look into family communication apps that are made to help people co-parent easily and simply. You can send information to and from each other, make schedule edits, and importantly, keep track of all communication in a single place. This is especially crucial for hostile divorces where keeping receipts of everything you and your co-parent say to each other is relevant to your divorce trial, but it’s also handy to have for any kind of parental separation.
If you’re working with an amicable co-parent who’s willing to work together to create a parenting plan, this is a great time to let them take a look at the draft you’re working on so far and see how they feel. As the both of you are still readjusting to being separated, they may have scheduling needs or financial concerns that you hadn’t known to incorporate in your plan. Talk about possible solutions together and negotiate a plan.
If your divorce isn’t amicable and you don’t feel you can bring your draft of the parenting plan to your co-parent, your mediator or lawyer may be a great resource for offering advice on the parenting plan. Family mediators have lots of experience with parenting plans, and they may recognize a common pitfall in your current draft. They have plenty of experience and expertise – take advantage of their knowledge!
If you are dealing with a difficult situation and may not be able to communicate with your co-parent effectively, hiring a mediator can be extremely beneficial. Yes, it may cost time and money, but it WILL be worth it in the end.
Take your time and remember your goals
If you rush your parenting plan, it’s not going to turn out the way that you want. Make sure to keep your primary goals in mind, keep calm, and put your kids first. Remember that you’re doing the best possible thing you can do for your family; making sure you have a plan in place so that everyone can have their needs and goals met.