Creating and Understanding Parenting Plans
A divorcing family must design a thoughtful parenting plan to insure a focused family environment. A well designed plan lessens disagreements, decreases conflict, and helps the entire family understand and accept the future.

A good parenting plan gives children a measure of routine and predictability. A written plan, spelling out explicit visitation protocols, can go miles toward making life easier for everyone involved. A parenting plan decreases conflict between ex-spouses, and it increases the chances that the children will grow up in a stable environment. It also encourages the parents to work together amicably. Most divorced parents come to realize that consistency makes for predictability.

The parenting plan, which is normally incorporated with the marital settlement agreement, has the force of a court order.


Parenting Plans

A well thought out and designed parenting plan makes it possible for children of divorce to spend good time -- and have good memories -- of the time spent with both parents. And divorce makes it more important than ever that a child spend time with both parents. A good plan gives the parents an opportunity to participate in the children's education, finances, and any health care they may need.


Negotiating Parenting Arrangements

Divorcing parents must negotiate with each other in order to create a sound environment for their children. Parents must understand the needs of the children, and must take into consideration that what they are doing is in the best interests of the children. In a divorce, children endure an enormous amount of change, so is important that the parents work together and not against each other. It is also important to try to keep court involvement at a minimum when dealing with certain parenting issues.


Normally a parenting plan stipulates the following:
  • Custody: often physical to the mother and shared legal to both parents
  • Visitation: the days and hours when the noncustodial parent visits the children and overnight visits and the protocols for picking up and returning the children
  • Holidays and vacations and birthdays and special days
  • Schooling, with sufficient details so that the noncustodial parent can participate
  • Child Support, with sufficient detail about the terms and conditions of payment
  • Recreation, which may mean limits on television or computer use
  • Dating, which establishes the protocols for the introduction of new partners into the lives of the children
  • Medical care, with sufficient detail so that both parents know even routine medical and dental care events
  • Dispute Resolution, which means the protocols for enlisting third-party mediation when the parents cannot resolve the problems themselves
  • Revisions and Updates, which establishes the rules and consensus about revising the plan

The basics of a good parenting plan are listed below:
  • A good parenting plan is specific enough to be useful, but general enough to be flexible
  • When implementing a parenting plan it is important that the parents stick to the schedule, no matter how difficult it may be for either parent. This will give the child some sense of trust
  • Younger children need greater predictability. Parents must be aware that they need to work together in order to create a harmonious environment
  • Parents must consider the age of the children when designing the plan
  • A parent must be aware of the other parent's schedule and work out a realistic plan that can be followed by both of them
  • This keeps conflicts to a minimum

Parenting Custody and Arrangements

Parents are obligated to provide for the children's education, medical care and safety. If the custody is joint, as the result of the divorce, then the parents must make arrangements for the new living accommodations for the children. Both parents are obligated to replicate conditions the children find in an intact family environment.

The most common custody in the courts is either sole or shared custody. In a sole custody arrangement, only one parent physically cares for the children, while the other parent is granted visitation. In a shared custody arrangement, both parents are able to spend significant time with the children.

The terms and conditions of medical insurance coverage and extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses for the children are normally described in the marital separation agreement, but the parenting plan may reference medical care, providing that each parent keep the other informed about the child's routine visits to the doctor.

Some parenting plans also establish protocols for grandparent visitation. The plans may include agreements about third-party care of the children. They may establish limits on television watching, computer use, bedtimes, rules for homework.

Some plans now specifically include email as a designated communication links between children and the noncustodial parent, and designate a set time of the day for the noncustodial parent to call the child on the telephone.

The introduction of new partners into the lives of small children can be very difficult for a youngster, so a parenting plan may deal with dating and establish dating accords, including sleep over protocols for new partners.


Common Questions and Answers

Q. Why is a parenting plan important for divorced parents?

A. Because custody and visitation are very often two flash points between divorced couples, a good parenting plan goes a long way toward eliminating issues that can become inflammatory.

Q. How does a parenting plan help divorced spouses?

A. Divorced parenting is more difficult because the spouses are now seldom together to reinforce one another. A parenting plan, though obviously not as good as two parents physically present, reinforces the agreement that both parents create. For example, the plan may allow for only so much television watching per day. Because this is stipulated in the plan, television watching is no longer "on the table," that is, no longer open to negotiation.

Q. What can parents write in the plan?

A. Within reason, spouses can write anything into the plan. No one right plan exists; anything that works is fine. A parenting plan deals with the nuts and bolts of custody arrangements and the specifics of visitation by the noncustodial parent, such as schooling, special days and dates and contact by noncustodial parent. The plan is often built around a core schedule of hours and days when the noncustodial parent takes charge of the children. The plan is a trellis that supports divorced parenting.

Q. What should divorcing parents remember in writing a plan?

A. No judge knows the children as well as his or her parents. If the parents cannot negotiate a plan themselves, the courts will do it for them, but courts would much prefer that the parents do it. Most of the time the parents are left with the responsibility of making arrangements.



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