The reality of divorce is that people and situations change. Ex-spouses move on to new relationships and new living arrangements. Along the way, their priorities and beliefs may change, as well as their child-rearing techniques.
A parenting plan addresses many of the potential pitfalls that could occur after a divorce and it helps keep you out of court. It allows you to verbalize and record specific areas of agreement and it helps children to see consistency between mom's and dad's households.
As parents, you both know your child better than anyone else. You may also agree on certain things pertaining to the child's upbringing. While every parenting plan will be different and no one can write one for you, it is important that you have one, even if your children are still very young.
Here are 12 things that should be included in every parenting plan:
1. Discipline: This area will address how you give praise and how you discipline your children. For example, do you prefer to use time-outs, send them to their room, or remove their privileges? How will a punishment that happens in one parent's home be carried over to the other household?
2. Relationships: Here is an area where you can address the introduction of new relationships to the child. This could include everything from cohabitation and adults "sleeping over" to the way a child will address a stepparent – first name, stepmom/stepdad, or another name? It should also cover how the new person will be required to follow the same parenting plan.
3. Routines: This may seem trivial, but consistency is important. Which diapers, formulas and baby foods will you use? Will you allow a child to use a pacifier or walker? How will you child-proof your home? What time must the children go to bed? Again, the more consistent you are with rules, the easier it will be on the children.
4. Illness: How will you handle it when your child is sick? Will they stay at one home or will you still exchange? Which parent will be expected to stay home from work or attend doctor's appointments? It is also important to address any drug allergies and keep a supply of "approved" medications at each home.
5. Extracurricular activities: Before the child is enrolled in a new activity, will both parents need to approve? What happens when an important event happens during the other parent's parenting time? Will you allow the child to have independent relationships with friends and make plans in one parent's neighborhood while the other parent has custody?
6. Religion: How will you raise your child in terms of faith and spirituality? Will there be one faith, two faiths, or no religious training at all? Will both parents take the children to the same church or synagogue? What will happen if an important religious holiday for one parent falls during the visitation time of a non-religious parent? Will the child's participation in religious activities be something that both parents agree upon?
7. Supervision: What are the limits on adult supervision of your child? For example, is your child allowed to ride a bike in your neighborhood alone? Will you require the kids to check in with you when they get to a friend's house? How old do the children have to be before they are left home alone, and under what circumstances will they be left at home without supervision?
8. Finances: How will the parents divide the cost of extra-curricular activities, birthday parties, school trips, etc.? Should each parent have their own supply of recreational supplies (bikes, skateboards, sporting equipment) or will these items "travel" back and forth with the child?
9. Child care: Which child care provider will you use when you need a babysitter during parenting time? Will you each use the same daycare or babysitter? Until what age will you continue to use child care? Should the other parent be offered first choice to watch the child, even if it isn't their weekend?
10. Vacations: If the children will be traveling out of the area, do you need to provide the other parent with a detailed itinerary? If so, how much travel information is required? How old must your child be before being allowed to travel alone?
11. Holidays: How do you celebrate each holiday? Will one parent have Christmas Eve and the other one Christmas day? Will you rotate Thanksgiving and Easter every other year? Which other holidays do you observe and how will each parent share these holidays each year? Will both parents be with the child on their birthday? What about the parents' birthdays?
12. Study habits: If the children will be switching homes during the week, be sure you include details on dealing with homework habits. How will you handle projects that must be completed while the child is between the two homes?
Some Colorado Springs divorce attorneys may offer to help parents draft a cohesive co-parenting plan. In situations where parental conflict is a problem, it may be best for the parents to attend a class on co-parenting.
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