If you’re in the unfortunate situation of separating from your partner – and you have a child or children – one of the first priorities is to start developing a parenting plan. In simple terms, a parenting plan documents how the two of you will continue raising your child while living apart.
Benefits of Agreeing on a Parenting Plan
Creating a parenting plan is an important foundation for your co-parenting relationship. The plan will provide certainty and security for everyone involved.
Every separation or divorce is tough and it can be challenging to find common ground with your ex-partner. However, both of you will almost certainly want to protect your child’s interests. No matter how much each of you might have shifted into unfriendly territory, you need to put that aside in order to agree on certain practical matters.
A verbal agreement is usually not enough. Either one of you could simply change your mind in the future and the verbal agreement will no longer count for much. You could also easily have disputes about matters that weren’t discussed properly.
The most important thing is to set sensible rules and to respect them. That’s the way to make your child feel safe, confident and loved. Let’s look at some of the key elements of an effective plan.
The Parenting Schedule
When it comes to the parenting schedule (also known as a visitation schedule and custody schedule), you shouldn’t leave anything to chance. In ideal conditions, the child would spend the same amount of time with both parents. However, while 50/50 custody has benefits, it can also be impractical – especially if the parents eventually live a considerable distance from one another.
You should aim to create a system that works for all of you as much as possible. There are various models you could choose from. Rotations after 2 or 3 days can work great for co-parents who live near each other. If that’s not your case, you could opt for the parent who lives closest to the school having care during the week and the other parent having good amounts of parenting time on weekends.
To see what the most efficient schedule is for your situation, you should try the schedule generator at timtab.com. The technology automatically adjusts for factors such as child age and school travel times. After hundreds of calculations, parents are shown the parenting schedule that balances the cost of travel with a child’s need to see both parents often.
Child Support and Expenses
Some parents rely on child support and hope that everything will work out on its own. That’s not always the case.
I suggest you include a clear financial plan in your parenting plan. A meeting with your ex to talk about finances may not be pleasant, but try to think of it as a business meeting. You’re there to define some rules and make sure that everything is done in the best interest of your child.
If one parent earns significantly more, they may offer to give more support. However, you should define what do you want to use that money for.
One of you may want to buy expensive clothes and shoes for the child while other wants to create a college savings account. Even though you’re not a couple anymore, you should talk about big decisions regarding your child’s future.
To reduce the potential for disputes over money, it often helps if you each volunteer to individually take care of certain types of expenses. For example, the sports-mad parent could pay for all things sporting while the parent who loves clothes shopping could but clothes most of the time.
If your child is going to spend a lot of time with another parent, you probably want to stay in touch with them. It’s better to define some rules in advance, and even set some boundaries if needed.
Some people prefer short calls most nights to check in with the child and keep up with daily events. Others avoid talking to their ex, and they prefer to do everything through text. This is also fine if both of you agree.
These days, many co-parenting apps are available to potentially make your life easier. You can leave your ex notes or reminders to make sure they stay updated about what’s going on in your child’s life.
Vacations and Special Occasions
Sticking to exactly the same schedule week after week would make for an unhappy child and parents. Flexibility is needed to provide variety. So, a good parenting plan has provisions for school breaks and special occasions such as Thanksgiving.
For special occasions, parents may be allowed to choose certain days when they have a child irrespective of what the regular schedule says. To accomodate vacations, parents are usually able to nominate blocks of time each year when whey have their child for an extended period. The blocks of time may be longer for older children.
A Living Document
A parenting plan is no magic pill, and sometimes needs to be enforced, but it’s something that can make your life easier in the long run. Take your time now, and go through all the important questions with your ex. Once when you define your plan, both of you’ll feel grateful because you’ll have guidelines and clear expectations.
We’ve covered just some of the most common issues but you can add anything that you want. And you are always free to agree with your ex on additions and modifications.
You can’t predict the future and how things may change over time. So, treat your plan as a living document. A parenting plan is to be used a tool to give everyone structure and provide a foundation for an effective co-parenting relationship. Any improvements at any time that you can both agree on should be added to the plan.