Divorce can be a stressful experience, especially when children are involved. Learn how to create a solid parenting plan that works for both parties.
Divorce rates are on the decline, but 39% of marriages will still end in divorce.
If you’re facing a divorce, you’re no doubt entering one of the most stressful events of your life. If you have children, your worries are compounded.
Who will get custody of the kids? How can you create structure in their lives while your own life is unraveling? Most importantly, how can you ensure your kids receive the love and attention they need?
Many kids experience difficulties after a divorce, including behavioral problems and poor academic performance. But that doesn’t have to be the case with your children. The key lies in creating (and executing) a successful parenting plan.
What is a parenting plan? Why is it so important? And how can you create one that works for your family’s unique circumstances?
In this post, we’ll discuss those questions and more. Read on to learn how to write a parenting plan for court and your own personal use.
What Is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a legal document that outlines how you and your ex will care for your children after the divorce. It is generally required by the family court as part of the divorce process.
The plan should include every major aspect of your kids’ lives, including custody, visitation, and communication methods. (We’ll discuss this in more detail later).
If possible, you and your ex should be the ones to create the parenting plan, since you know your kids and your circumstances best. If you aren’t able to reach an agreement, the court may take steps to create a plan for you or suggest the services of a family law attorney.
What Should I Know Before Creating a Parenting Plan?
Although a parenting plan is a legal document, it doesn’t need to include technical or legal jargon. What it should include is plenty of details outlining how you and your ex will handle your responsibilities.
The court wants to see that your plan will provide a safe, stable, and loving environment for your kids. They want the assurance that your children’s physical and emotional needs will continue to be met.
Of course, your circumstances are different than any other couple in the midst of a divorce. A parenting plan template is a great place to start, but you need to customize it to fit the unique needs of your family.
Remember: The parenting plan is for the benefit of your kids, not yourself. You need to be willing to make compromises and be accommodating to whatever is in your kids’ best interests.
The most common mistake couples make is writing a plan that’s too vague. Include every detail and scenario you can think of, such as who will pay for medical expenses and what happens if one or both parents decide to relocate. You’ll also want to explain how you’ll resolve disagreements and if your kids are allowed to travel out-of-state or abroad.
When reviewing your plan, the court will evaluate:
- Each parent’s health and ability to provide for their kids
- Your children’s age and maturity level
- Proximity to the extended family
- Proximity to established schools or religious organizations
- Any plans for one or both parents to relocate
- Everyone’s preferences on custody arrangements (each parent and each child)
- Any past or present legal misconduct
If possible, it’s best to work on this plan together. If you can’t reach an agreement, each parent may submit their own plan to the court for consideration and approval.
Parenting Plan Template: What to Include
Now that you’ve got an overview of the plan, let’s discuss specific items you should include.
1. Living Arrangements & Scheduling
This is the basis for your plan, as it outlines how each parent will physically provide for the children.
Will your kids live primarily in one residence or divide their time evenly between both of you? Who is responsible for pickup and drop-off? Will you bring your children’s belongings back and forth, or will your kids have two sets of most items?
What about daycare or babysitting arrangements? How will each parent communicate with their children when they’re visiting the other? When and where will the children spend time with their friends, and who will transport them to events such as parties or after-school activities?
You should also discuss how you’ll handle any changes or disruptions to the normal schedule. What if it’s necessary to make a change due to illness, special occasions, or an unforeseen event? How much notice will you give, and will there be make-up time for missed visitation?
2. Holidays, Vacations, & Events
Will your kids spend certain holidays with the same parent each year? Or will you alternate between households?
Create a plan for:
- Religious holidays
- Secular holidays
- School breaks
- Summer vacation
- Mother’s Day
- Father’s Day
- Weddings and funerals
Again, include as many details as possible, including transportation, length of stay, or any plans to “split” the time over certain holidays.
3. Health Matters
Who will provide medical and dental insurance (if any) for the children? How will you make decisions about routine or emergency treatments?
What about arrangements for routine checkups or dentist visits? Who will take the kids to these appointments? Who will take time off work and stay home if one of the children gets sick?
Will each of you have access to your children’s medical records? What about arranging for any special needs like eyeglasses, speech therapy, or orthodontia? How will you make decisions that are in your child’s best interest?
4. School & Extra-Curriculars
Where will your children attend school? Will they enroll in a special program or require tutoring after hours?
What about parent-teacher conferences or other school events? Who will attend? Who will pay for school trips, lunches, or other related expenses?
What if your child must be absent for any reason? Can either parent take the child out of school for the day? What circumstances are allowable (or not) for the child to miss school?
If your child plays sports or belongs to an after-school club, who will handle transportation arrangements and associated costs? Will both of you attend games or competitions?
5. Religion & Culture
Will your household include any religious instruction or activities? Will your kids accompany you to church or other religious services? How will you make these decisions?
What about relevant cultural events and activities? If you live in a bilingual household, what will be the primary language spoken at home? Will your children be instructed in a second or third language?
Consider the extended family too, such as grandparents. How often and when will they visit, and who will be there during the visits? How can the extended family communicate with your children?
What about everyday lifestyle and discipline? What rules will be in place for bedtime, allowance, homework, dating, and other expectations?
6. Communication Between Parents
How will you and your ex communicate after the divorce is finalized? Over the phone, by email, in person?
How will you keep track of your children’s schedules? Will there be a written or virtual calendar available where you can access and add relevant events?
How much notice will you give in the event of travel plans, schedule changes, or other disruptions? How often will you communicate about your children? What about emergencies—how will you get in contact with each other?
Other Factors to Consider
Your divorce may be contentious, but try to take a step back and be reasonable when it comes to your kids. You may no longer love your ex, but your kids likely still do.
Focus on creating a plan that will help them maintain a strong relationship with each of you. If they’re old enough, consider their preferences about who they’ll live with and how they’ll spend time with each of you.
If you have legitimate concerns about your ex’s ability to care for the children, put it in writing. You may not agree with certain aspects of their parenting style, but this is different than concerns over binge drinking or drug use.
Most of all, avoid putting your kids in the middle of your divorce. Assure them of your continued love and support during and after the process. Respect their needs by enjoying the time they’re with you and avoid criticizing what your ex chooses to do.
Do You Need Help With Your Parenting Plan?
Some couples are able to sit down and create an effective parenting plan on their own.
But what if the relationship is strained and civil communication is difficult (or impossible)? This is where a lawyer experienced in family law and child custody can help.
Your divorce is undoubtedly stressful, but making a parenting plan doesn’t have to be. It just takes time and consideration to decide what will work for you and your ex—and what is ultimately best for your children.
Are you going through a divorce in the Orlando area? Don’t go it alone.
We can help with all aspects of the divorce process, including assistance with your parenting plan. Contact our law office today with any questions or concerns.