Life after divorce is full of adjustments. The habits and ways of relating that you are familiar with changes in many ways, leaving you wondering whether you will ever find a new “normal.” When children are involved, this is especially so. Parenting as a couple is very different from co-parenting as two separate individuals. For the sake of your children, you will need to find a way to make it work.
A parenting plan is one of the most important documents in a co-parenting relationship. It will give guidelines for each parent and provide rules to follow in order to minimize conflict. Parents are encouraged to make decisions together beforehand as to what rules will be in place, and are expected to adhere to their decisions. This can prevent many arguments and should keep either parent from taking liberties where the input of both parents is needed.
What should a parenting plan include? There are many things that should be covered. Here are some general ideas of what you may want to include in your parenting plan.
This is one of the most important and basic things to agree on. How will custody be arranged and which parent or parents will the child live with? Who will the child be with on holidays and other special days? Will there be specific times, places, and locations for drop-offs and pick-ups? Who decides whether a parent is allowed to move and where?
When children are with one parent, how often and through what means is the other parent to communicate with them? If a parent must miss visitation, will it be skipped or made up?
The area of health care for the children must be dealt with before any issues arise. Some areas to decide on are things like who will make medical and dental decisions for your children, and who is responsible for taking the children to appointments. Will one parent keep the child’s health card or will it follow the child from one home to another? Is one parent going to claim the children’s health expenses and who should that be?
Your child’s education is another area to remember when writing the plan. Arguments can erupt over where the child should go to school and who gets to make those decisions. Is your child going to attend public school, private school, or be home schooled? Which parent will attend parent-teacher conferences and who signs permission slips for field trips? Is either parent allowed to remove the child from school, and for what reason?
There are many other areas that require careful thought as well. Who chooses what religion your child will be taught? Which parent is going to enroll the children in extra-curricular activities and be responsible for getting them there? Who can travel with the children and who keeps their passports and other documents? Do both parents have to be in agreement over these decisions?
Agreeing how parents should communicate is essential as well. Will you text, email, phone, or meet in person? How will conflicts be resolved?
Co-parenting is not an easy task. A parenting plan can minimize problems that can arise from it. Write down what you would like to be decided in your parenting plan, and draw also on the experiences of friends who have been there. Use these ideas as a springboard for discussion so you can create a parenting plan that will allow you to co-parent successfully in the many years to come.
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