When married parents divorce or unmarried parents separate, it’s always best to create a parenting plan together so that parties can address specific needs of their situation and hopefully, avoid conflict in the future. Finding a way to work together and share parental responsibilities is a huge step toward ensuring a smooth transition for children. Beyond just determining how much parenting time each parent has, there are many issues that impact custody arrangements.
Creating a parenting plan is one of the most important steps in establishing the new normal for your family. Following the tips below will increase your odds of creating a workable and helpful parenting plan for your family’s needs.
Be realistic about the schedules of everyone involved
One of the most important parts of a parenting plan is the division of parenting time. How you share time should reflect, as much as possible, the work schedules of the parents and the unique needs of the children. A parenting plan that doesn’t account for special scheduling needs will probably require a lot more last-minute communication and negotiation between parents. Having a plan in place that works most of the time eliminates the frustration of having to discuss trading time or not being able to exercise periods of possession that typically leads to more conflict.
Think about special days before they occur
A parenting plan should address the school year and summer vacation, as well as spring break (and possibly a fall or winter break from school). Additionally, you need to think about other special days, like holidays (religious and otherwise), graduation, birthdays and any other celebrations or observances unique to a parent or family. Deciding how to split or share those special events in advance will result in less conflict in the future.
Agree on standards and rules for the children in writing
Different approaches to discipline and parenting can cause major conflicts for co-parents. While parents may not agree on every issue, it’s certainly best to be on the same page about things like screen time limits, curfews and expectations for academic performance. When both parents agree to the rules, it will be easier to present a unified front to the children after the separation or divorce.
Recognize that conflict is likely inevitable
Even if parents fully commit to a solid co-parenting attitude and plan, issues will inevitably arise. Having some rules in place for how to handle that conflict, rather than waiting until a major dispute erupts, will hopefully prevent a situation from escalating and derailing the intentions of the parenting plan.
Include rules about disparagement and custody interference
Ideally, parents will keep the focus on the kids after a separation or divorce. Unfortunately, many parents let their emotions overwhelm them and this can negatively affect the children. If a parent talks poorly about the other parent in front of a child or denies the other parent access to the child, conflict can escalate quickly and cause more problems. Having rules in place about what can and cannot be said or discussed in the presence of the children as well as not interfering in the other party’s periods of possession can be helpful in deterring negative behavior. There is a list of common-sense things that parents should do, often called the Children’s Bill of Rights, that parents should strongly consider including in their parenting plan.