Having children with someone else can be the source of a beautiful bond that you both treasure. Sadly, it can also be the source of intense stress if one or both of you want to end your romantic relationship.
Deciding how to allocate both parenting time and parental responsibilities can be difficult. Whether you are married and about to divorce or never married but hope to share custody with your ex, you may want to create a parenting plan that will guide all of your major decisions in the months and years to come.
Creating this plan will obviously require consideration of your family’s unique needs and circumstances. However, certain considerations are more or less universal for every family that requires a parenting plan.
Establish an appropriate schedule for sharing parenting time
The first and most obvious thing you will do in a parenting plan is outline how you intend to share custody, including who assumes custody on what days and how you intend to split special days like holidays or birthdays. If you and your ex can stay on amicable terms, you may be able to both be present for those important days for your children.
Otherwise, you need to figure out a way to split those special days in a way that is fair to both of you and to the children. A good approach typically involves creating broad rules instead of highly specific schedules so that you can adjust to the changing needs of your family in the future.
Try to get on the same page as your ex regarding what you expect from the kids
It is common for parents to have different wishes or dreams for their children, but that doesn’t mean you can’t agree on the most critical concepts and rules. Having consistent rules and expectations makes it easier for both of you to enforce them in your individual homes and sets your children up for success.
The more difference there is in the expectations and rules between your homes, the easier it will be for your child to make a mistake or to potentially play you and your ex against one another in order to get the outcome they prefer in the situation.
Outline the important issues like college and medical wishes
Some people have limits on the medical care they can receive because of religion. Other families may have a family history of children attending a certain school. While parents obviously can’t decide what college their child will attend, they can agree to discuss certain things with the child or agree to provide financial support during those college years if the child attends the school that the parents prefer.
It can be hard to anticipate what your family will need many years from now, but trying to outline your wishes and hopes for your child so that you and your ex are on the same page is an important part of developing a workable parenting plan.
Put a process in place for when things go bad
Even if you and your ex are on friendly terms, complications almost invariably arise in the many years that divorced parents share custody of their children. If you want to minimize the impact of parental disagreements on your children, have a system in place for you and your ex to handle disagreements regarding parenting time or expectations for the kids.
If you both adhere to a specific procedure, that will reduce the likelihood of exposing the children to any arguments and increase the potential for you to resolve the issue without damaging your co-parenting relationship. Mediation, consulting with a trusted third party or family law attorney, and family therapy are some of the options to consider in figuring out the details of your parenting plan.