You and your partner/spouse have decided to end your relationship. You want to be the type of parents who can be near each other at school events or sports activities, yet you wonder if the two of you can actually rise above any personal discomfort. You desire having a reliable schedule so you both can plan your time, allowing you to focus your energy and attention on your children while they are with you. Financial issues were a struggle during your relationship and you want to ensure that they don’t carry over into your co-parenting going forward.
Taking the time to work through the details of a Parenting Plan can minimize conflict later and allow you to focus on what is most important – parenting your children. Here are three elements to consider:
1 – Think about your goals for co-parenting
There is nothing that can be done about the past. You do, however, have an opportunity to paint a peaceful future. Think about a parenting time schedule that takes into account your children’s school and activities, your work schedule, and your co-parent’s work schedule. Consider a budget and be prepared to make a proposal of how the two of you could handle expenses for the children. Contemplate how you want to co-parent and how the two of you will make joint decisions about education, healthcare, and/or activities. Pause and envision when/how the two of you want to handle introducing a new partner to your children. Having the difficult conversations up front will allow you to reach your goals for the long term.
2 – Recognize simple isn’t always best
The more conflicted the relationship, the more details that may be needed in the plan. Even in relationships with little conflict, the Parenting Plan is the roadmap of your co-parenting relationship going forward. One way to minimize misinterpretation is to get very specific in the plan so there is not room for misunderstanding later. Dig into details such as which parent will provide transportation for parenting exchanges, specific times for beginning and end of parenting times, and what holidays are special and how you want to share the time with your co-parent. Other optional details you may choose to include are sharing belongings, how you and your co-parent will communicate, and how to stay in sync with discipline.
Addressing this level of detail may feel uncomfortable or even daunting. The work you do upfront is like an insurance policy to ensure success in the event a situation arises and there is disagreement. Recognize that creating a plan full of details does not mean you have to be rigid. If you and your co-parent decide collectively to not follow the terms of the plan, go for it! If one of you wants to make a change and the other parent doesn’t agree, then the terms in the Parenting Plan prevail.
3 – Enlist the support of professionals
An experienced professional can help you advocate for yourself, or can advocate for you as much as you need.
A mediator will lead you and your former partner through a series of conversations where the two of you negotiate the terms of the Parenting Plan. The mediator empowers the experts – the parents – to determine the outcome of the situation and have control over all of the details of the Parenting Plan. In addition to you and your partner having full control over the outcome, the mediation process is often less expensive than retaining an attorney and going to court.
A family law attorney will guide you through the process of crafting a Parenting Plan, advocate on your behalf if you and your co-parent do not agree on all of the terms, and may be an advisor in mediation. The family law attorney is a good resource advising how the laws might be applied to your specific case in court.
Creating a Parenting Plan could be one of the most important tasks you complete upon ending your relationship. A good plan can mitigate the risk of conflict, allow you and your co-parent to proactively address topics prior to them becoming an issue, and be an important guide on how to navigate the future together, in separate homes.
Wendi Stern is a family/divorce mediator at The Center for Family Resolution located in Columbus, Ohio. Wendi works with individuals who want to gain clarity and feel confident making important decisions when ending a relationship. You can connect with Wendi by visiting The Center for Family Resolution or click here to schedule an appointment.