A parenting plan refers to the legal arrangement that outlines how both parents will be involved in raising their child, regardless of whether they are married or not. It’s vital to create and follow a parenting plan during and after your divorce or separation so you don’t wind up fighting over shared custody later on. Luckily, there are six steps you can take to create the perfect parenting plan.
Step 1. Ask yourself questions
Really think about what you want and need out of your parenting plan. What is most important to you? What will make it work? Are there things that are non-negotiable for you? These are all questions that you should be able to answer before starting on any other steps. Of course, different situations will require some variances on these questions, but it’s still good to know where you stand up front. Once you have answered those questions for yourself, use them as guidelines for future decision making when writing your parenting plan with your ex. This can help speed up decision making and avoid further conflict down the road.
Step 2. Talk to your Partner
Before you even think about penning anything down, you need to talk through your parenting plan with your partner. Although you’ll probably agree on most issues, it’s important that both of you are comfortable with every part of it before committing anything to paper. If there’s any way it doesn’t feel right—even if only slightly—either revamp parts or scrap everything and start over again. A written parenting plan is no good if neither parent wants anything to do with it or feels uncomfortable with certain aspects of it. At minimum, go through three drafts before printing out final copies.
Step 3. Get Legal Help
This step is important. There are hundreds of details to consider when creating your parenting plan, including how you’ll communicate with each other when it comes to decisions involving your children. If you don’t know where or how to begin, ask a family law attorney for advice and help crafting your agreement (see Getting Legal Help at right). You may even decide that hiring an attorney is worth the money; if so, be sure you hire one familiar with family law who understands your concerns and goals as parents. Don’t skimp on legal fees; protecting your time with your kids should be worth every penny.
Step 4. Agree on Child Custody Arrangements
In your parenting plan, you’ll have to decide which parent is responsible for each aspect of your child’s life. This may include who will make medical decisions, what religion he or she will practice, and where he or she will go to school. When deciding on these issues, remember that it’s important to pick solutions that fit your child’s needs—not just yours. Make sure both parents are on board with all of your choices before moving forward.
Step 5. Decide on Medical Decisions
When parents decide that they no longer want their ex-partner involved in medical decisions, they’ll usually have questions. Who will make medical decisions for your child? Will there be one decision maker or two? If you’re concerned about making important medical decisions without an experienced attorney, contact a family law firm that specializes in parenting issues. Typically, family law attorneys will advise clients on what’s best for their child and help write up a parenting plan that outlines who can make these crucial decisions (as well as when). Ask if you can use him or her as your child’s healthcare proxy and power of attorney. No matter how difficult it is at times, let your kids spend time with their other parent.
Step 6. Choose Between Sole Custody or Joint Custody
While divorce may hurt, it doesn’t mean that your kids have to lose out. When you and your ex are both on board with what’s best for your children, it’s likely that you’ll be able to agree on a custody arrangement. The trick is coming up with an arrangement that makes sense for everyone and works with your family’s dynamic. Think about how much time each parent spends with your kids now, as well as how their schedules will change once they’re apart from one another (for example, if they were working full-time together). If money is an issue, consider whether or not each of you will be able to maintain adequate health insurance coverage and save enough money for childcare.
Step7. Choose a parenting schedule that works
Creating an equal parenting schedule is important. Consider your child’s age and maturity level, and think about how many overnights they’ll need with each parent. For example, young children benefit from spending weekends and full days at each parent’s home while older children might enjoy shorter stays (the same applies for college-aged kids). Another thing to think about is whether you both work outside of your home. If one of you works during typical child care hours, you’ll want to consider when parents will be responsible for pick-ups/drop-offs and other transportation arrangements. As a parent, it’s important that you come up with a parenting plan that best suits your family’s needs.