If you and your spouse are going to file for divorce and you have children, one of the most important things to do first is to create a mutually agreeable parenting plan.
You may be unsure of how to create a parenting plan prior to a divorce.
This article will give you some guidance and resources to help.
What a Parenting Plan Is
A parenting plan, in short, sets up how your children will be co-parented by you and your spouse while you work through your Orders of Separate Maintenance and Support and then after your divorce is finalized. Your parenting plan will state who has custody of your children, when, how often the children are with each spouse, and can specify whether you or spouse can move outside of their current school district. Each parenting plan is specialized to the needs of the family it comes from. Which means, it is best to talk about this, even if you are still exploring your options, with an experienced lawyer.
Who Makes the Parenting Plan
If you and your spouse can set your differences aside and discuss what is best for your children, then the two of you can work together to come up with a parenting plan that fits your family. If the particulars are going to be contentious, you are likely headed for mediation, or worse. It may end up being a court that decides the plan in the end. There is a risk in whichever direction this takes, so make sure you have a chance to get completely honest with your attorney while exploring something like a parenting plan.
What to Think About When Making a Parenting Plan
There are many aspects to think about when you are setting up a parenting plan. You may not feel that you need to get very specific, but altering your plan later is much harder, and potentially painful, than getting it right the first time. Consider that this whole process is going to be stressful for all parties and it can end up in a place where ambiguities in your parenting plan become severe bones of contention later on. Do it right.
Some things to consider when writing your parenting plan:
Residence: Where will your children live? Residency should be the first thing you decide. Your children want to know as soon as possible. You will need to determine which parent the children will live with and what percentage of the time.
Parenting Schedule: You need to make sure that the schedule you set up for your children to spend time with both of you correlates with the schedules of both parents. Each of you needs to be able to spend enough time with your children). Try to come up with a parenting time rotation that allows both parents ample time with the kids. If it is too complicated to set up a regular rotation, then set up visitation time or schedule more extended amounts of parenting time with the parent who is available.
Event Planning: There will be times that your children will be invited to birthday parties or to stay the night with grandparents. Allowing them to do so on occasion is essential. Also, planning for birthdays and holidays can make a parenting plan go more smoothly. If Mother’s Day falls on a day that dad has the children, figure out a way to allow them to be with mom that day and maybe set up an alternative day for dad.
Expenses: You will need to decide how to handle child-related expenses. For example, if your children are on your spouse’s health insurance, you may want to be responsible for co-pays since your spouse pays monthly premiums. You can split some expenses 50/50, but you may need to split others differently depending on each household. You also need to decide child support payments and schedule. A judge will decide on support payments if you do not do it before your divorce.
Big Future Decisions: Decisions for education, healthcare, religious practices, discipline, and such are big decisions that should be made by both parents. If you and your spouse can make these decisions together, then decide how communication and decision making will work. If you are unable to agree, then involving your lawyer might be a good step.
Other: There may be things other than what is listed above that is important to you such as curfew, diet, seeing extended family, etc. If it is important to either you or spouse, include it in your parenting plan.
Don’t Get Overwhelmed!
Coming up with a parenting plan can be overwhelming, especially if you and your spouse are finding it difficult to get along. It is not required to use a lawyer during this time, but we suggest that if you cannot agree with each other, or even if you fear that you will not, contact a divorce lawyer.