If you are going through divorce or separation, you might be wondering what your parenting plan should look like. You may even wonder what a parenting plan is!
A parenting plan is the court order that sets forth where your children will be and when. There are temporary and final plans, each serving different needs. A parenting plan establishes who is going to make decisions about and for the children, and how those decisions will be made. It gives you a holiday schedule that determines where the children will be. It also has other provisions and restrictions if needed. A parenting plan is extremely important for establishing consistency and a new normal for families.
Because families are different, children are different, and situations are not all the same, having the right plan for you and your family is absolutely essential. I cannot tell you the number of times I have seen on a message board or elsewhere online people asking for copies of other people’s parenting plans for examples or to try and copy. When I see that I often try to suggest someone build a custom plan based on their own needs. This is not to necessarily to reinvent the wheel every time, but simply to make sure people understand there is no “one size fits all“ when it comes to families in parenting plans.
People get into trouble by trying to do what I call a “DIY plan,” meaning doing it themselves without any legal guidance or simply copying a friend’s parenting plan. This typically results in major things being missed, an inappropriate dispute resolution provision, a schedule that is not realistic for you, and worst of all, extreme difficulty in making changes to the plan later when it is not working.
Parenting plans also include important details about where and when the children will be dropped off and picked up for exchanges between parents. This can often be a source of contention and can be something difficult to change later. Plans include how to make decisions and access dispute resolution if the parents do not agree. There are a number of specifics that should always be included but that people who have not routinely dealt with these issues in difficult times, would have no way of knowing.
A parenting plan should bring clarity to your family and not create more confusion. A plan should be something that works not just for the parents, but most importantly for the children. Indeed, plans are decided upon in court based on what is in the best interest of the children. Further, the age of children is something that is often not taken into consideration when parenting plans are poorly drafted. The time apart from each parent for younger children is likely going to be different than for what is appropriate for an older child. A parenting plan might be best drafted with different phases either for milestones by age, development, or other reasons.
Making changes to a parenting plan or what we call in the court system “modifying“ a parenting plan is extremely difficult. There is a strong public policy in place of keeping parenting plans consistent and therefore hard to change no matter how much one person may dislike it later. To be able to make changes to a plan, there is a high threshold to establish in showing that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that could not have been contemplated when the original parenting plan was first entered with the court.
Having a plan that is well thought out and anticipates the needs of your children, takes your individual circumstances into consideration is the best way to avoid finding yourself wishing you could make changes later because your current plan is not working when nothing significant has changed, or wishing you had thought of other things to include.
If you want to talk about your situation and what may be best for your family, please reach out. The more information that you have, the better position you are in.