I often find myself sitting in mediation with couples who are looking for guidance when it comes to creating a parenting plan. The beauty of mediation is that you can create a parenting plan that is going to work best for your children and your family and quite frankly, it really does not matter what everyone else is doing. That said, there are certain elements that, from a practical standpoint, you may want to address. Here is a parenting plan checklist of items to consider.
Before I get ahead of myself, what is a Shared Parenting Plan? It's a written document that details how you will co-parent. If you take the time to think through future parenting challenges that may arise, it can really take a lot of stress out of co-parenting. It's like a guidebook that you created for yourselves. When we discuss your plans for shared parenting in mediation, you can determine how detailed to get. There is a Shared Parenting Agreement that will ultimately need to get filed with the Court. However, in mediation, we can explore obstacles that may arise that are not within the jurisdiction of the Court. A well-thought-out parenting plan has the potential to substantially decrease future co-parenting-related conflict. Here is a parenting plan checklist to get you started.
Who will be responsible for the child(ren) and when? I often get feedback from clients that this is going to vary due to work schedules and other commitments. I get it! The key here is to create structure and routine for co-parenting and remember, it will help you to avoid future conflict. Come up with something and discuss how you will handle future adjustments to the schedule. Also, consider who will drive the kids to make the exchange. Will you meet at a neutral location or drop off at one home and pick up from the other? There's no right or wrong. Remember, this is about creating a plan that will work for your family.
What family traditions are most important to you? Keep those in mind as you negotiate who will be with the kids on which holiday. If you both have family traditions on the same day, can you split the day? For example, the kids have lunch with one parent and dinner with the other? You may find it helpful to alternate certain holidays each year.<h3id="A3">☑ Birthdays and Other Special Occasions:
Consider the children's birthdays as well as your own birthday. Talk about family parties, graduations, and other special occasions. Depending on the age of your children, this plan may need to be flexible enough to handle numerous changes in your family. The key is coming up with a way of communicating about these events and recognizing that you are both going to have to be flexible, to some extent. Remember, it's all about doing what is in the best interest of your children and let's face it, that may not always be the most convenient thing.
When your children are school-age, what is the plan for all of those teacher in-service days, snow days and school vacations? What about when your kids are sick?
For some families, travel is a big topic and for others, it does not come up as much. Do you travel frequently for work? If so, how has that been factored into the parenting schedule? Do you plan to take the children on trips? If so, how far in advance will the other parent need to know? Are there any restrictions regarding where they can go or who can travel with the children?
Have you and your co-parent been on the same page as it relates to discipline? If not, this is an especially important conversation to have. Even if you have been on the same page, expectations change as children get older. Take time to discuss not only how you will discipline your children but also how you will communicate regarding discipline in the future.
Who will carry the children on their medical insurance? Who will be responsible for making any major medical decisions? What about unexpected medical expenses?
Will one parent take the primary role when it comes to education or will you share in this responsibility? Will you both attend parent-teacher conferences? How will report cards be handled? What about decisions regarding public vs. private schooling?
Everyday expenses are generally discussed in the context of child support. What about other child-related expenses such as medical expenses or extracurricular activities? How will you determine who pays for these costs? If you are sharing in the expenses, you'll want to detail the logistics and percentage each parent will pay. For example, will you be consulting with the other parent prior to committing to an expense? How will you communicate? How long does each parent have to come up with the money to cover their share of the expense? You may find an app such as OurFamilyWizard to be helpful in tracking and communicating regarding these expenses.
Even the most well-thought-out parenting plan is going to require some level of flexibility and communication. How will you communicate questions and concerns? With what frequency will you communicate?
This parenting plan checklist might just be a starting point for you. It is not meant to be exhaustive. Remember, the great thing about the mediation process is that it gives you greater control. You are able to make these decisions based on the needs of your children and your family. You do not have a Court telling you how to parent. It also challenges you to think long-term about how to best parent your children moving forward. I got divorced when my children were ages 4, 7, and 9 and my ex and I still have many years of co-parenting ahead of us. Your parenting plan is not going to be perfect and it's not going to cover every situation that may arise. However, it can create a solid framework for interacting and decision-making going forward.
If you are considering the mediation process for your divorce and would like to learn more, schedule a call. We offer mediation locally in the Cleveland-area and virtually nationwide.