As a loving parent, you know there's nothing more important than your child.
In fact, they might even be the very reason you and your spouse stayed together as long as you have, despite the breakdown of your marriage.
But now that you're divorcing, ensuring the well-being of your minor child / children is your first priority.
And it starts with creating a sound parenting plan to outline how you and your spouse will effectively co-parent your child / children and share in their care and upbringing after your divorce is final.
What is a Divorce Parenting Plan?
While every parenting agreement is as unique as your child / children, there are a number of areas each must cover. These areas include:
Parenting Time / Visitation:
Who will your children spend nights, weekends, holidays, summers, vacations and snow days with?
* This part of the plan can also serve as an input into the calculation of child support.
Decision-Making Responsibilities for the Kids:
Who can make medical decisions on behalf of the child? Or move them out of state? Or change their name?
Issues Related to Your Children's Well-Being:
Things like schooling, extracurricular activities, health care, child care, religion and overnight guests, to name a few.
Things like who will be responsible for driving the child / children from house to house for parenting time, or what happens if one divorcing parent moves far from the other?
Exceptions to Parenting Agreements:
What happens if one parent has to travel for work during "regular" parenting time? What happens if one parent wants to switch a holiday or weekend? Or wants to take the kids out of the country for an extended period of time on vacation?
All of these issues and many, many more must be covered in a parenting plan.
There are a few things you need to understand about the challenges of creating a good parenting plan for divorce:
There are very few guidelines that outline explicitly how to create a parenting plan and determine how much time the children will spend with each parent;
This topic has very little to do with rules or formulas, and more to do with negotiation, good parenting and parental responsibility;
There is more than meets the eye on this issue and in the majority of cases, this topic is much too complex for you to try to resolve on your own.
That's why you'll get the best parenting plan agreement by mediating with us.
"Crafting the ideal parenting agreement is both an art and a science. It needs to be detailed enough so that it’s clear and easy to follow, yet flexible enough to allow for exceptions and evolve as your kids get older.
The best way to create a plan that’s good for you and your children, now and in the future, is by working with an experienced divorce mediator like me."
There are very few guidelines that explicitly outline how to determine parenting time.
There are also no "cookie cutter" formulas, books or websites that can help you build a proper parenting schedule that will meet the unique needs of your children and family.
And even if you and your spouse think you have your parenting plan all figured out, in reality, you may have left a lot out because you simply "don't know what you don't know."
To illustrate just how much detail needs to go into sound parenting agreements, take this example regarding the Christmas holiday:
Mark and Lisa are divorcing and have two children, ages 6 and 4. Throughout all the years they've been married, they traditionally celebrated Christmas Eve with Mark's family and Christmas Day with Lisa's family.
They decided that after the divorce, Mark will get the kids every Christmas Eve and Lisa will get them every Christmas Day.
Sounds simple, right?
But many parents of young children believe that one of the joys of the Christmas holiday is the morning of December 25th when their kids wake up excitedly to see what Santa brought them.
Given that Mark has the kids Christmas Eve and Lisa Christmas Day, where do the kids wake up on Christmas morning?
The kids' bedtime is 7pm. So Mark feels they should sleep over at his house and he'll bring them to Lisa's place after breakfast on Christmas Day. But Lisa feels that since Christmas Day is her day with the kids, they should wake up at her house.
Uh-oh... Now what?
More details are needed in order to avoid problems. And there's no family law that states when Christmas Day begins.
"We'll just figure it out as we go."
Even though they're divorcing, some couples actually get along fairly well when it comes to parenting. And while that's good news for their kids, it can be very bad news when it comes to creating a good parenting plan.
Jeff and Amy are emotionally mature and can effectively co-parent their children, despite the fact that they're divorcing. They feel that they don't need to outline much in their parenting schedule. They get along well as parents so they'll "just figure everything out as they go."
But unfortunately, parenting plans are about much more than just what's happening in the here and now.
The best parenting plans need to address not only the issues you face today, but the issues you'll face as divorced parents in the future. Along with many other issues you might not even be aware of at the present time.
If you leave everything open, you’re going to have a lot of future problems.
Fast forward and it’s now 3 years after Jeff and Amy’s divorce was finalized. They were still getting along reasonably well for two and a half of the last 3 years. But then Rob, Amy’s boyfriend, entered the picture. Things are getting serious between Rob and Amy and the kids really like him, too.
Rob’s family lives in Texas, and he wants Amy and the kids to come with him to his parents’ house for Thanksgiving. The plan is for them to fly to Texas the day before Thanksgiving and stay until the following Sunday. But Jeff is feeling a bit threatened by Amy’s new relationship.
Since at the time of their divorce, Amy and Jeff chose to leave their parenting arrangement wide open, Jeff feels he has a right to say no because he won’t get to see his kids on Thanksgiving. But Amy feels she can say yes because there’s nothing in their plan that says otherwise.
And the worst part? The kids are caught in the middle.
As you can see, determining how to create a comprehensive parenting plan isn’t always easy to figure out, let alone agree upon.
There is more than meets the eye when it comes to parenting plans for divorce.
Since no two couples, divorces or parenting situations are the same, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to fairly resolving parenting arrangements. And as you’ve been learning, less is not more when it comes to creating a sound parenting plan.
A lot of parental conflict can be caused by leaving even the smallest detail undiscussed and undocumented. And coming to agreement on what each of you thinks is fair and what’s best for your children can be quite tricky.
The subject of divorce parenting plans is much too complex for you to try to resolve on your own.
When the law gets involved with resolving custody and parental conflict, it’s a problem.
If you and your spouse (the parties) each hire a divorce lawyer and they can’t help you come to a child custody agreement, you’ll have no choice but to battle it out in family court. And in a litigated divorce, a judge determines your child custody order and visitation schedule.
But since there are very few guidelines surrounding child custody, the judge will guess at what’s best for your children using something called “the childs best interest” standard.
Are you willing to let a complete stranger dictate what’s best for your kids?
What if you wind up with a court order neither of you finds fair? Or doesn’t serve your children’s best interests?
It’s better to negotiate this topic – as parents. And that’s exactly what divorce mediation is all about.
Divorce mediation enables the parties to make decisions - as parents – that put your children’s needs first. Instead of letting their future be decided by a stranger.
How will you know what to include in a parenting plan for divorce? And how to structure a plan that works best for your kids? Mediation with us!
We’ll begin mediation with the creation of your parenting schedule and time sharing plan. Because there is nothing more important than your kids!
This sets a good foundation for co-parenting. And fosters agreement in other areas such as: child support, alimony and the division of your marital assets and liabilities.
Together, we’ll work to craft a comprehensive plan that’s as flexible and detailed as your situation requires.
We’ll not only identify the issues you currently face, but the future ones, too. And actively guide you through negotiations in any areas of disagreement.
We’ll also make sure your parenting plan is thorough, easy to follow, and leaves nothing to interpretation.
While allowing you to play an active role in making all of the important decisions and creating an agreement you both find fair and equitable. And that puts your children first.
Divorce with kids has many challenges. But one of them doesn’t have to be creating your parenting plan agreement.
You may no longer be husband and wife, but you’ll always be mom and dad.
So if you love your children and want to put their needs first, do the smart thing and mediate your divorce out of court with Equitable Mediation.
Equitable Mediation enables you to have a child-focused divorce.
Why be forced to accept a parenting plan dictated by a judge in family court when you can create an agreement that's best for your children now and into the future instead?
If you want to avoid family court and instead make decisions as parents, do what’s best for your kids and mediate your divorce with Equitable Mediation.
The choices you make before you start your divorce are critical.
Regardless of how many years you've been married, whether you're the one who wants the divorce, your spouse does or you're both on the same page, the choices you make before you start your divorce will likely set the tone for how the entire process will unfold for you and your children.
And how peaceful, fair, child-focused and cost-effective your divorce will (or won't) be.
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and specializes in helping couples resolve the issues required for divorce -peacefully, fairly and cost-effectively. When he’s not mediating, you can find him exercising, cooking, and watching Cubs baseball.