When creating a parenting plan for separated parents of minor children, there are a few basic things that should be included in each plan. This includes answering the following questions:
- Who is responsible for making decisions (also known as custody)?
- Who is responsible for living and when? In other words, devise a basic parenting plan (also known as custody).
- When can the baseline be changed? For example, with a vacation and vacation schedule.
- Are there any necessary arrangements for communication?
- Are there any restrictions or notification requirements regarding traveling with the children?
- How and when can the schedule be changed?
- What other events need to be reported (e.g. a child’s illness)?
- What’s your plan for dealing with disagreements?
Some parenting plans keep these terms relatively simple, leaving plenty of room for flexibility between parents. Each choice has advantages and disadvantages in drawing up an agreement, and a flexible or vague agreement carries risks and benefits. One benefit is that parents can easily make decisions when life changes without tying them to a schedule that may not work as their children grow. It also encourages parents to communicate through the children.
However, a flexible plan also carries risks. If the parents have a lot of conflicts or have difficulty communicating, they may not be able to make decisions if the plan is not specific enough. The advantage of a more structured plan is that it includes a standard schedule that can be accessed if there is any discrepancy. Additionally, while negotiating a structured and very specific plan can take longer, it can also help avoid future conflict. For young or anxious children, a specific timetable can also provide comfort that there is a clear plan for further development.
It is important to consider how specific your parenting plan and communication guidelines should be based on the level of conflict in your case and the age and needs of your children. This is a good area to seek advice from a child development specialist or an experienced family law attorney if you are unsure of what to do. You can use online resources to evaluate options, such as: For example, see the Parental Plan Worksheet available on the Skylark Law & Mediation website.
In addition to these basic considerations, it can be helpful to consider provisions that address areas of potential future conflict or circumstances that are unique to your family. This may include provisions that affect:
- Introducing children to new significant others;
- International travel and passports;
- Preventive or elective medical or dental care, vaccinations and body modifications;
- Use of technology by children;
- Use of pictures of children;
- Religious instruction
- Disciplinary differences;
- Safety regulations relating to children’s activities;
- Definition of potential legal guardians of children if both parents are deceased or unable to work; and
- A parental leave safety plan if a parent has a history of abuse, substance abuse, or any other condition that endangers the health or safety of the children.
If something is not addressed in your parenting plan, you may forego your rights in the future or prepare for future conflicts in parenting. To avoid these problems, you want to make sure that your agreement includes all of the typical terms and everything that is unique to your family.
We’ll continue to address these potential editorial issues in our upcoming series of blogs on separation agreements, including the following articles that specifically relate to the provisions of the parenting plan:
- Introduction of new significant others for children (and other hard-to-discuss agreements);
- The overlap of technology and parenting plans.
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We hope you find these resources useful. While we focus on agreements in Massachusetts, many of these tips apply in other states as well.