Most divorce proceedings that involve minor children require a document called a parenting plan. This serves as a roadmap for parents following a divorce – it might include responsibilities for each parent, provisions for a child’s education, his or her religious upbringing, and more. Learn how to create a fair parenting plan and what you must include in each document.
Why You Need a Comprehensive Plan
Many divorcing parents fall into the trap of creating a bare-bones plan for their children following a divorce. A thoroughly detailed plan, however, is worth more than its weight in gold: It provides clear instructions for each parent regarding his or her role in a child’s upbringing. Without a solid parenting plan, a child may:
- Lose out on time with one parent
- Miss out on activities he or she used to enjoy
- Experience confusion regarding their education or religion
- Miss out on time with extended family
Any of these can lead to undue stress and resentment, both for the children and any affected family members. By contrast, a comprehensive and fair parenting plan has several important benefits, such as:
- Peace of mind, as both parent and child know exactly what to expect
- Placing the emphasis on the child’s well-being, instead of fighting with the other spouse
- Creating safety and routine in a schedule
- Reducing the likelihood of returning to court to settle disputes
What Makes for a Fair Parenting Plan?
In general, the more detailed the parenting plan, the better. Parents should keep in mind that a fair parenting plan contains elements that should be in the best interest of the child, not themselves. Several essential elements go into good parenting plans, such as:
- Information regarding where and when a child should receive medical or psychological treatment
- How often a child should visit each parent and extended family members
- What recreational opportunities a child should continue to enjoy
- A defined schedule for holidays and vacations
- A basic outline of who makes what decisions on behalf of a child
- A transportation plan (to another parent’s house, to extracurricular activities, etc.)
- The financial responsibilities each parent will take on
- A process for handling disagreements, should they arise
- Provisions for evaluation and revisions of the timetable, if required
How to Create a Good Parenting Plan
A couple’s parenting plan will look as unique as the family it affects. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution – parents must work collaboratively to meet the interests of their children in the most efficient manner possible.
In some contentious divorces, an amicable and collaborative solution might not be possible without intervention. This is where Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) can become handy. Using arbitration or mediation, couples can work out the finest details of a parenting plan using their attorneys and a neutral third party. This is a preferable alternative to litigation, in which the courts will decide how the parents handle the upbringing of their children.
As parents begin the work of developing a fair parenting plan, they must remember that these documents aim to serve the best interests of the children. Custody and support arrangements for the children are often one of the most contentious aspects of divorce, as each parent wants to spend time with the children – and as much of it as possible. However, as parents go through the process of divorce, they should think of how each decision will affect the children’s well-being and create a plan in line with it. In some cases – such as divorces involving older children – it may be appropriate to ask the child about preferences while creating the plan.