AAARRGGHH! WHY YOUR UNWRITTEN PARENTING PLAN IS NOT WORKING
One of the more frustrating tasks for separating and divorcing families is developing and sticking to a comprehensive parenting plan for the children. During a divorce the parenting plan identifies where the children will be living on a day-to-day basis and who will be making the daily parenting decisions. Making a parenting plan can be emotionally and practically difficult. The emotional burden combined with the number of decisions and the potential difficulty in making these multiple decisions, often leads clients to forgo mediating a written post-divorce parenting plan. Sometimes, parents assume that they can work well enough to make future parenting decisions (even if they have not made significant decisions together in the past.) Sometimes, parents may write down only the most basic parts of the plan or none of the plan. This is not a good idea. It is best for the family – especially the children – for parents to put together a comprehensive, written parenting plan for their family after the divorce for several reasons.
A Comprehensive Parenting Plan Creates Stability for the Children
A parenting plan should be created with the children's best interests. And a comprehensive parenting plan helps provide stability for the children. It is in the children's best interest to know when they will be with each parent. Children also want to know where they will spend holidays and whether they will celebrate old traditions or create new traditions. This type of stability helps children during and after the divorce.
A Comprehensive Parenting Plan Creates a Baseline for Future Compromise
Parenting plans should be comprehensive and address issues such as: where the children will be sleeping on any given night, when the children transition between households, who will transport children to the transition point, where and when the children will spend holidays, when the holiday begins, where school aged-children will spend winter breaks and spring breaks, where children will spend summer breaks, who will pay for extracurricular activities, when and which relatives may visit with the children, how the parents will communicate with each other about the children's needs, whether discipline should be consistent between the households, when a child should receive a cell phone, whether clothing should be transported between houses . . . the list can go on and on.
Working together with your mediator to make these decisions during the divorce is an opportunity to show compromise with your ex-spouse for the benefit of the children. In addition, when you and your ex-spouse create a comprehensive plan, you create a chance for future compromise. No plan will be perfect, and no plan will address every circumstance. However, knowing that there is a plan in place in case of disagreement may allow each parent to compromise when the future requires one-time or short-term modifications.
Working through the Details Eliminates Confusion
Many parenting plans state that the children will alternate holidays with the parents (for example, Christmas Day with one parent and Christmas Eve with the other parent one year, alternating every year.) An unwritten plan may fail to identify when Christmas Eve ends and Christmas Day begins. Such ambiguities may exist throughout the parenting plan when the parents have not worked through the issues with a mediator. Even if they seem tedious and frustrating, working through these details helps ensure that the parents share expectations rather than assumptions.
Parenting Decisions are Often Difficult, and Parents Should not Assume that they will get Along
Parents often tell each other and their mediator that they will be able to make decisions together in the future for the benefit of their children. But, many families return to court time and again to try to enforce a plan because the other is allegedly not cooperating. Parents often think they will get along but should plan not to get along all the time. A comprehensive parenting plan creates preexisting agreements, which ensures that the parents have already made decisions for those times when they cannot agree. Again, this eliminates potential ambiguities and is best for their children.
A Comprehensive Plan Allows Clients to Know What Needs to Change
Mediation allows divorcing parents to plan for the future. However, no parenting plan is perfect regardless of how much planning the parents do. As parents attempt to work with the plan, they will notice that it may not be working on several fronts. Children grow and develop, and their relationships with their parents change. Children engage in new and different activities. Parents can assess the necessary changes to the plan. However, it's harder to determine what changes may need to occur if there is no plan.