The goal is simple: Share custody of your child(ren) with your ex-spouse.
The details are anything but…
When and how will you share? What days? What about pick-ups and drop-offs?
Who’s allowed to take care of them?
How do you keep an unruly parenting style in check?
These subtle but critical specifics call for a strong and effective co-parenting plan.
A co-parenting plan lays the foundation for how you and the other parent will care for your children after you separate—the more inclusive and tailored to your family’s needs your plan is, the better. Its objective is to align everyone to the main goal of raising healthy, well-adjusted kids and set everyone on a surer footing during an often disorienting time.
Settling on a framework ahead of time decreases the time you and your co-parent must interact with each other. It also keeps disputes at bay, promoting peace and reducing the chances of costly legal battles.
Creating any sturdy structure requires thoughtful planning. First, consider your child’s needs and well-being.
Next, recognize your and your co-parent’s strengths and capabilities. What were your responsibilities and interactions with your child(ren) before the divorce? How involved were you in these four areas:
Ideally, you and your co-parent benefit best from equal parts parenting and activity time. The same is true for minor and major decisions. For example, one parent taking on the bulk of the “parenting time” while the other experiences the majority of the “activity time” tends to be a recipe for future conflict.
Lastly, give your child and co-parent a say. A young child may want more time with the mother. An adolescent male may wish for more time with his father.
Understanding and incorporating the wants and needs of your family is challenging, so get help. Lean on the guidance and advice of professional divorced family therapists, mediators, or liaisons to help you, your co-parent, and your children strategize. They have more experience than you and can suggest proven methods.
Also, research “shared parenting app” to find technology to help you design and implement your plans. You’ll find everything from co-parenting expense trackers that help you securely share, pay, and bill your co-parent to co-parenting plan templates and schedule sharing.
After careful thought and discussions with your divorced family planner of choice and armed with a co-parenting app or two, you and your co-parent are ready to draft a parenting plan. Ensure yours includes some key components:
Will you and the other parent file for joint physical custody, splitting time with the children equally, or another arrangement? How will it affect school or child care? Write down work and custody schedules.
Who makes the majority of decisions? How will major or minor decisions be made?
Settle on locations, acceptable wait times, and the best way to handle rescheduling ahead of time.
How will you discipline your child, and do you let your co-parent know so you two can put up a united front? What living arrangements and conditions do you expect? Does a home need baby-proofing? What boundaries do you set for screen time, bedtime, or homework time? How often do you correspond, and in what ways? What’s an acceptable amount of time to wait for a response? How will you encourage and facilitate the parent/child relationship?
Consult with an accountant before negotiations. Who will claim Head of Household on tax filings? Who pays for insurance, and whose is primary? How will you split co-pays and non-covered services? Who pays child support?
Who schedules and drives kids to doctor appointments? How do you choose a practitioner? How and when do you notify the other parent of a different practitioner? Do you vaccinate? How do you update the other parent regarding health status and reports? What happens in the case of another lockdown?
Whose emergency contact number is listed on school and activity forms? What address should be used? Who decides on summer camps? Who drops off and picks up from school? How important is it for your child to remain at their current school?
How old must a child be to stay home alone? How do you decide and pay for childcare services? Does the other parent get the Right of First Option to care for the child if the co-parent can’t during their custody time? How much notice do you and your co-parent give each other when one of you cannot care for the child in your custody?
Does extended family live with or commonly watch children in your or your co-parent’s absence? Do children or parents have health conditions or learning disabilities? Is one parent’s work schedule more flexible than the other’s? Does work entail frequent travel or relocations?
Circumstances change with time, which calls for the parenting plan to be flexible. How will you and the other parent adjust? Will you have a grace period to test out new strategies? Will you agree to discuss one-on-one first and take disagreements to mediation or counseling second?
Having a dependable co-parenting plan allows you to establish and manage expectations. You also want that plan to be flexible enough to bend without breaking during unforeseen circumstances and life changes. Consult with experienced professionals to help you plan. Utilize a co-parenting app to help you organize and implement any and all of these key components.