When you get divorced and you have children, they are usually going to be your top priority. All decisions made by you, your ex-spouse, and, if applicable, the judge are going to be made in the best interest of the child. This means that there will be some compromises and decisions made that won’t be exactly what you want or exactly what your child’s other parents. The most important consideration is whether the agreement is what is right for your child and if you should establish a parenting plan or some other form of agreed upon parenting method.
Co-parenting is when both parents work together to parent their shared child whether or not they want to and whether or not they agree with what the other parent is doing. Co-parenting leads to better outcomes for kids. It’s important that your child has a relationship with you as well as with his or her other parent; gone are the days when children automatically live with their mothers and might see their fathers once in a while. Instead, in most cases, it’s expected that the parents will work together to raise their child.
What Is A Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a binding agreement made by you and your child’s other parent. It will become part of the divorce agreement, so even though the two of you can work together to make the plan (with or without the help of a mediator), it’s not a casual agreement that you can change whenever you want. It’s a legally binding document, so it’s important that you put a lot of thought and effort into designing it.
A parenting plan will spell out who is in charge of the child at what times and in which situations. For example, it will determine the custody schedule. Don’t agree to a custody or visitation schedule without thinking it through first. Sometimes one parent will assume that “every other weekend and a week in the summer” is what’s normal and expected. It might be what’s best in your case, but that’s not the only option available.
Depending on the age and school or daycare schedule of your child, you might be able to work out a plan where you have the child one week and your ex has them the next. Or you might have them every Monday through Wednesday, they have the child Thursday through Saturday, and you alternate Sundays. If you are off from work on, for example, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, you might have your child every Tuesday and Wednesday while your ex has them every Saturday and Sunday and you work out a schedule for the other days. Think about your schedule and the schedule of your child’s other parent when making this schedule.
Why is a Parenting Plan Important?
There are several benefits to developing a parenting plan. First, a parenting plan provides a level of support within a family. The two of you will be working together to support one another and cover each other’s absences for work. Also, it allows you to plan to bring your child to your extended family so he or she can have a good relationship with aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.
Next, having the plans on paper keep both parents in line. There are no misunderstandings about who has the child when. You simply refer to what the plan says and you follow it. This does not mean that in rare cases you cannot alter the schedule. If you have the flu on your weekend, then it’s perfectly reasonable for the child to stay with your ex and for you to either skip the weekend or to take them out another day to connect with them before you are scheduled to see them again. As a general rule, however, what the parenting plan says is what goes.
Finally, a parenting plan is what you should refer to when it comes to unusual situations. What if you have to move out of the state for your job, for example? You could address this type of scenario while putting together the plan, but you probably won’t be able to predict every possible disruption. Instead, the plan could advise both of you to always let the other know before moving or making any other drastic changes that would affect visitation.
A parenting plan is legally binding, but it can also be changed if needed. The key is to keep the lines of communication open with your ex-spouse. Remember that the two you need to work together until your child is 18 at a minimum, so it’s best to have something in writing to refer to when there are inevitable disagreements as you co-parent your child.
If you have questions or concerns about developing a parenting plan or making the most of your co-parenting relationship, please visit National Family Solutions.