One of the best reasons to formalize your "parenting plans" as a newly divorced couple is the fact that situations and people change. As you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse move into new relationships and new living arrangements, your beliefs and priorities could change, and this could impact your child-rearing techniques. As parents who will be sharing custody, it is very important that you and your ex remain on the same page about how your children will be raised.
What is a "Parenting Plan?"
Parenting plans will vary depending on the couple, the children, the custody arrangement and the state where you are getting divorced but in general they are designed to prevent the potential pitfalls that can happen after divorce. A formalized plan allows you and your spouse to verbalize and record the important parental areas where you agree. This allows you to present a united front as a "parental unit" as your children grow up, and see consistency between mom's and dad's households.
As parents, you and your spouse know your kids better than anyone. Chances are, you also agree on certain things with regard to their upbringing. While every parenting plan may be different and no one can write one for you, it's important that you have one in place.
What should be included in your parenting plan?
Since parenting plans are essentially written by parents, there are no hard and fast rules about what to include, but most parents try to cover the following 12 topics. You and your spouse will need to spend time discussing each one of these items to determine where you stand and how you will work together to enforce a set of guidelines.
Discipline – Depending on their age, decide whether you will remove privileges or use time outs, and how you will carry a punishment over from one household to the other. Discipline isn't just about how your children will be punished when they do something wrong; it is also about how you give praise when they do something right.
Relationships – As you and your spouse start separate lives, you will likely develop new romantic relationships. It is important to decide upfront how you will handle this with the children. When will the children be introduced to the new person? Is it okay for other adults to "sleep over" while the children are in the house? If you remarry, how will the children address their stepparent? How will this person be obligated to follow the same parenting plan?
Routines – These might seem like trivial details, but they are very important. Decide how you will each child proof your home, which diapers, baby foods, snacks and other products you will use for the children. What time must the children go to bed? The more consistent you can be with the rules, the easier it will be for your children to adjust.
Illness – Decide now how you will handle a child's illness. Which one of you will stay home, or will you take turns? How will an illness impact the custody exchange, and who will take the child to see the doctor? It is also important to stay on top of any drug allergies and for each of you to keep a supply of medications and first aid items in the home.
Religion – This is an important sticking point among divorced parents, but you should decide how your children will be raised with regard to faith. Will there be one religion or two? Will you forego religious training entirely? What happens when a religious holiday for one parent falls during the non-religious parent's visitation time? It is important to agree on these things up front.
Extracurricular activities – Decide now how you will handle your child's extracurricular activities. Will both parents have to approve before the child can be enrolled? What happens when an important event pertaining to these activities (a tournament, recital or play) occurs during the other parent's visitation time?
Finances – How will you and your ex divide the cost of child-related expenses that are not included in child support? These include school trips, extra-curricular activities, instruments, computers, bikes, sporting equipment and birthday parties. Will each of you purchase certain sporting equipment so it is always available, no matter where the child is living?
Child care – Which providers will you use when you need a babysitter during parenting time? Are there any family members that are "not approved" to watch the children? When will you consider your child old enough to care for himself or herself?
Vacations and holidays – For vacations, will you need to provide the other parent with a detailed itinerary of your travel plans? How old must your child be before they are allowed to travel alone or with friends? How will you divide the important holidays, like Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter? Will both parents be with the child on his or her birthday? How about the parents' birthdays?
Studying and school work – When the children switch homes during the week, will you both share the same rules regarding homework and study habits? How will you handle the completion of projects that must be completed while the child is between the two homes?
Many Colorado Springs divorce lawyers will offer to help divorcing parents draft a cohesive parenting plan. However, in situations where parental conflict is an issue, it may be necessary to attend a co-parenting class.
Photo Courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net