Divorcing Couples and Parenting Plans

Divorce and family mediator, Susan Ingram, discusses divorcing parents and parenting plans.

For couples who have children and are divorcing, there’s no more important subject to discuss than their parenting arrangements post-divorce.

As we are working in mediation, my couples sometimes ask if there is a best parenting plan that couples should adopt and follow. The short answer to that question is, no. The slightly longer answer is – no, because so much depends on the unique circumstances and needs of your specific family and its members.

Here are just a few of the many issues that have to be addressed when a couple is putting together a parenting plan:

  • the age of the children and their developmental needs
  • the children’s school schedules and extracurricular activities
  • the parents’ work schedules
  • scheduling for holidays and summer vacations
  • the distance of the non-residential parent’s home from the children
  • any special needs of the children (such as disabilities or health issues)

Typically, it’s best for a parenting plan to be as specific as possible. So, for example, when I articulate both the routine weekly/monthly schedule, as well as the specific holiday schedules, I will give the exact times for pickup and return of the children, as well as where the exchange will take place (at a parent’s home or in a neutral location, for instance).

Of course, if a couple gets along well and can accommodate each other comfortably, they may not need to follow the parenting plan to a “T.” But in the majority of cases, where there is some degree of friction, specificity definitely works best.

I also provide a mechanism for periodic review/re-evaluation of the plan. This is especially important if the children are young. One couple, with a two-and-a-half-year-old, chose to schedule a review right before the child entered kindergarten. For other couples, it might be sufficient to include a provision (which is standard in my agreements) that they will return to mediation if circumstances change and parenting issues arise.

A major benefit of working with parents who have chosen the mediation setting for resolving their differences (as opposed to a contentious litigation process) is that they are more willing to work out an agreement and parenting plan that is fair and that better meets the needs of their children.

If you are considering a parenting plan, how will you ensure that it meets the needs of your family? What factors will you take into account?

 

Comments from Social Media

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I totally agree that it needs to be as specific as possible – and that parents get to mediation as soon as possible.When parents parent as one united front, children find it easier to adjust to their new circumstances. Their needs change as they get older but also the circumstances of either parent may change therefor the review is important.It is also helpful to write the parenting plan in a language (use of words) they can understand.

Ronel Ferreira, Mediator

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Good point to provide for review of the parenting plan each year/other amount of time when the children are young, Then the plan can grow with the children.

Catherine Schultheis, Mediator

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Speaking from personal experience. I agree parenting plans need to be specific, especially in the beginning of the separation where there is usually a lot of anger and hurt. Hopefully, over time the plan can be adjusted to accommodate everyone involved, as was in my case. Like they say, “time is the best healer.” The plan was initiated when my daughters were 4 and 6 yo with very strict specificalities, now they are 14 and 16 yo and following the parenting plan is a whole lot less restrictive.

Johnny Lewis, Christian Counselor

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From my experience over the years as a marriage and divorce therapist and parental co-ordinator,only too often mothers and fathers caught up in the turmoil of divorce are incapable of truly seeing ther children’s needs and are unable of building effective Parenting Plans.

Pnina Blitz, Family & couple Therapist

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I totally agree that it needs to be as specific as possible – and that parents get to mediation as soon as possible.When parents parent as one united front, children find it easier to adjust to their new circumstances. Their needs change as they get older but also the circumstances of either parent may change therefor the review is important.It is also helpful to write the parenting plan in a language (use of words) they can understand.

Ronel Ferreira, Mediator

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You are right in the answer you give in your blog, each plan has to be tailored to the circumstances of each couple and particularly their children. I continually come across parents who don’t take into account their children’s interests when negotiating plans. I think this is because many parents in dispute see their children’s interests as really being a parent’s interest so ignoring it is an easy way to upset the other parent.

Philip Theobald, Children’s Lawyer

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I tend to think the level of conflict is the key driver of specificity when it comes to parenting plans. The more conflicted the parents the more specific the plan needs to be with lots and lots of reality testing and future pacing. We need to ask lots of “what if” questions and see if they can come up with a response together. I wouldn’t agree that parenting plans should be as specific as possible. I think they should be as specific as necessary to document the things that the parents have trouble agreeing to (or remember that they had agreed to) in determining what is appropriate for the child. I like to have guidelines where possible with a fallback position if they can’t agree at a future date. That way they have the opportunity to grow into cooperative coparent roles without being constrained by a overly prescriptive plan but have a fall back if they are not doing too well with a specific issue.

Joanne Law, Learning & Conflict Resolution Sepcialist

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Susan’s article is quite helpful in bringing out the point that express rules of the road can help the parties and children plan accordingly and I also think frequently help avoid conflicts where parties with open phraseology essentially feel they are limited by the custodial parent’s discretion.

Lillian LaRosa, Attorney

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