Topics in Parenting Plans
Topics in Parenting Plans
Most Mediated Parenting Plans address at least two topics: decision making and the parenting schedule. The first, whether one parent will make most of the decisions alone or the two parents will always confer with each other when making major decisions about the children’s care and upbringing, is often labelled as who will have legal custody of the children. The second, when the children will have time with each of their parents, is often labelled as a question of who will have physical custody of the children and, if custody is not shared, what the visitation schedule will be. That includes the routine schedule and the holiday and vacation schedule for time with each parent. After those major decisions are made, the following topics may also be included in a written, partially enforceable Co-Parenting Plan.
Handling Schedule Changes
How will you handle disruptions in your planned parenting schedule? There are two opposite ways that parents often choose. One is to include a Preference for Parental Care clause stating that when one parent is unable to take care of the children for several hours, the first person that parent will ask to care for the children is the other parent. The other is a Respect for the Other Parent’s Time clause. Each parent will be fully responsible for making all necessary child care arrangements and child transportation arrangements on the days when the children are scheduled to be in his or her care. Except in rare, urgent circumstances, neither will not ask the other parent to cover for him or her.
Life happens and people need to make adjustments, so I often suggest this clause about schedule variations: “The details of this parenting schedule may be changed at any time by mutual agreement of both parents. To avoid misunderstandings, it is recommended that any major changes be put in writing. A clear exchange of emails is enough to put an agreement in writing.”
Respect and Affection for Both Parents
Parents often include a promise that each will encourage the children’s respect and affection for the other parent. Neither will do anything to estrange the children from the other parent or to hamper the free and natural development of the children’s love and affection for the other parent. In some cases parents want also to promise in writing that they will not make offensive, obscene, profane, threatening, harassing, or vulgar phone calls, emails, text messages, or other communications to the other parent.
A variety of problems arise in children’s lives: neglecting homework, experimenting with drugs, making poor dating choices, shoplifting, bullying or being bullied, addiction to video games, and so on. Some co-parents make proactive choices to inform each other of such concerns and to work together to prevent or handle the problems that arise. Some promise to support or at least not to undermine the other parent’s decisions about disciplining the children. In such cases it may be important to make it clear that one parent will not impose a punishment that must be enforced by the other parent.
If co-parents are able to agree about boundaries for their children’s use of social media, they may include those rules in their written agreement.
What schedule will work best for your children and what activities are appropriate for them change as they grow older. Some parents decide to meet once a year, perhaps in June, to consider whether they need to update their parenting plan or add details about plans for the next year. Some promise each other that if they disagree about something important and are unable to resolve the matter on their own, they will return to mediation before addressing the matter in a courtroom.
New Romantic Partners
Many parents want to protect their children from exposure to a series of the parents’ dating partners. One obvious statement they can include in their written parenting plan is that neither parent will let a dating partner stay overnight with him or her when any of the children are present in the home. Some parents choose to write other restrictions, including not having dating partners do things with the children until the relationship has lasted at least six months and seems likely to continue for a long time.
New life partners and new job opportunities sometimes prompt a parent to consider moving far away from the place where they have been participating in their children’s lives and communities. To protect the children from mostly losing one parent or being subjected to a child custody battle when one parent wants to move away, some parents include in their initial parenting plan a statement about how they will handle such decisions.
For some parents, clarifying who will make which childrearing decisions and deciding when the children will have time with each parent seem sufficient. Other parents, especially those who know they are likely to get into arguments in the future, are well advised to think things through at the beginning and include many more details in their Parenting Plan. Whether each of the topics mentioned above should be included in your Parenting Plan is a question for you and your children’s other parent to decide, with help from a mediator if needed.
If you would like to discuss whether working with a family mediator would help you and other members of your family plan well for your children, contact Dr. Virginia Colin at mediatorQ@gmail.com or 703.864.2101.