As you divorce the Court will expect you to come up with a Parenting Plan. It is imperative to consider a number of factors when crafting a Parenting Plan that will be in place until your children are grown.
- Your Parenting Plan is really a back-up plan. If both parents agree, you can do whatever you think is best for your children. However, even if you are in agreement now, there may be times in your future when you will be at odds. This may happen when one or both of you remarry and stepchildren enter the picture and coordinating everyone’s schedules becomes difficult. Or there may be some other significant life event that makes agreement difficult. As a result, it is important to be thoughtful in crafting your Parenting Plan, as you may have to rely on it at some point.
- There is no standard parenting plan. There are no standard holidays, vacations, or other occasions you have to designate. You can designate the holidays that are important to you. For example, if you both work on President’s Day, even though the children may be off school, you may not want to include it as a special day in your plan as it only causes disruption for you and your children. Although many plans alternate holidays, you do not have to do so. If your extended family has traditions such as going to one on Christmas Eve and one on Christmas Day, you can put it in your plan. During the legal process, you may feel pressure to accept a “boiler-plate” plan. Stand your ground over what is important to your family.
- Take into account your child’s ability to handle transitions. If you have a child who has difficulty with change, you probably want to minimize transitions. If your child is on the autism spectrum, you definitely want to minimize the number of transitions from one house to another. You might want to choose a week to week plan with a dinner with the opposite parent mid-week, rather than changing households every other day or every two days. This reduces the major transitions from 2 to 3 times per week to once a week.
- Consider the age of your children. Young children, especially under the age of 3, need frequent contact with parents – the length of contact is not as important as the frequency. In their eyes, out of sight means you are gone, so seeing you frequently is reassuring and promotes bonding. Assuming you have relatively flexible elementary school children, they can deal with almost any plan once they get used to it. Children in middle and high school tend to dislike having lots of transitions as it interferes with planning their social lives – which is a priority for them at this age. After all, developmentally, they are starting the move away from the family and into adulthood.
- Finalize the Plan even if the financial part of your divorce is not finalized. We know that the sooner children get settled into the new family routine, the quicker their anxiety about the situation will decrease. This will help them move forward emotionally and focus on the here and now instead of worrying about the future.
Consider your children’s preference, but remember, you know what is best for them. Research tells us that children’s brains are not fully formed until they are in their 20’s. They cannot understand the future consequences of some choices, so, don’t assume they know what is best for them. The most important thing to remember is that spending significant time with both parents and reducing the length and intensity of conflict between parents will have the best long-term results for your children.