Moms and Dads that choose mediation or collaborative law usually want to create a stable, healthy environment as the family reconfigures during a separation and divorce. A well thought out parenting plan helps children and parents move forward in a positive way. One of the first considerations is how major decisions will be made. In a joint legal custody arrangement, parents consider which decisions require mutual agreement. Some parents include a time frame for notice to each other about major decisions and what happens if the parents do not agree or do not respond. Major decisions can be defined in the agreement so that both parent understand which decisions require input from the other parent. Examples of major decisions include: school choice, elective medical treatment, choice of attending professionals, ages the child can drive, tattoos, and travel restrictions. Parents can also include decisions that are unique to their family (e.g. special education or medical needs of a child). The parent having time with the children usually makes day-to-day decisions.
Setting the Foundation for Co-parenting.
A good co-parenting plan sets the foundation for effective co-parenting and is an important way for divorced parents to maintain a unified front for raising the children and handling decisions and issues that arise. The plan can be tailored to fit the specific needs and characteristics of the family. It can be modified as the children grow and certain needs and circumstances change. Having facilitated conversations about the plan is a helpful exercise in communicating about the children. Parenting plans include the routine weekly schedule, holiday and vacation schedules and what happens when a parent cannot follow schedule, among other issues. The characteristics of the family, including the number of children and their ages, each parent’s location, and the overall family dynamic will impact then parenting plan. I have outlined below considerations for developing a parenting plan.
A great deal of thought needs to be put into how the week will work in light of the parents’ and children’s schedules. There are many options for splitting up the week and it is a good idea to think about how each option will actually work in practice. The week and weekend may be considered separately or in blocks of time. Important factors are what happens between the time the children’s school day ends and the parents return home, how the children will get to their activities, and how each parent will establish a home for the children. It is equally important that parents be flexible with one another as life happens. This builds respect and allows for reciprocity in accommodating each parent’s needs.
Think about the Family Rules.
Every family has its own rules and boundaries, and when the children will be spending time in two households, parents need to talk about which rules will be consistent in both households and what happens in the event the parents’ rules defer.
Commit to Positive Communication around the Home.
Divorce is stressful, and parenting during and after divorce has its own set of challenges. While there may be disagreements and/or frustration, parents should remember to hold back on negative communication about the other parent when the children are present. During and after divorce, the children are adjusting to new schedules, new locations, and new ways of spending time with each parents, Keeping the communication positive will help to ensure the children adjust in a healthy way.
Communicate Honestly in a Respectful Way.
Co-parenting will provide challenges for both parents. Being able to communicate in a respectful way about these challenges will allow the parents to solve the issues in the best way possible. Communication may be its own challenge, especially in the beginning, but keep in mind that co-parenting is about creating a new normal for the children, and working together in a respectful way will help to accomplish that.
When thinking about the best way to approach co-parenting, the discussions can happen between the parents privately, or with the help of a mediator, lawyer or family specialist. If the collaborative process is used in the divorce, a child specialist may be brought in as part of the collaborative team to help develop the plan. For more information on the process choices available, as well as information on parenting agreements, please visit the “Practice Areas” page of my website or the co-parenting agreement blogs on familylawmatters-blog.com.