When you divorce and have children, you control how you and your ex will share the children’s lives by agreeing to a parenting plan, or having the court order one.
Our hope, as family law attorneys, is that after a divorce is concluded, you will never have to look at your parenting plan again. We want the two parents that once loved each other enough to have children together to figure out a way to make sure that they do what is best for the children.
Unfortunately, not everyone keeps that goal in mind. When we write parenting plans, we do our best to address the major issues we can anticipate and often include substantial detail. We can’t address every possible problem that may arise.
At a minimum, parenting plans should address the following:
- Parenting schedules covering normal weeks as well as school routine and emergencies and religious holidays and vacations. Consider carefully the age of the children, how far the parents live from one another, who is available to take care of a sick child, and any special needs of the children (emotional, physical, and educational). Remember that children have different needs at different ages. A plan that may work well for a nine year old will likely not be appropriate for a one year old.
- Who will make the decisions regarding the health, education, and welfare of the children? The main question: do you as parents share common beliefs regarding the children’s medical issues, their education, and their welfare. Also consider whether you have the ability to communicate with each other. Communication can be by email, telephone, or texts, as long as you can communicate promptly and with civility. You may need to outline how often the parents will communicate and how quickly they will need to respond to each other.
- How will the children be transported for visits? Who will pick up and drop off the children and where will the exchanges occur? If someone other than a parent will be picking up the child, who will be permitted to do so?
- How will extracurricular activities be decided? Will both parents be obligated to take the children to activities when the children are scheduled to be in their care? How many activities will a child be involved with at any one time? If parents do not agree, can a parent sign the child up on his or her time if the activity does not interfere with the objecting parent’s time? Should the parents rotate choosing activities? Who pays for each activity? Can both parents attend the activities?
- How will the day care providers be chosen? Will each parent be permitted to choose a day care provider when the children are at his or her home? Who will pay for the provider? Will a new significant other be permitted to take care of the children? At what age should the children be left alone?
Remember that the judge does not know (or love) your children and does not know you. Take the time for you and your spouse to include the things that are important to you in the parenting plan. The judge is not likely to fashion a plan with the detail and care that you and your spouse may find to be critical to your success as parents and to your children’s happiness.