How Should Divorcing Couples Approach Their Parenting Plan Discussions?

How Should Divorcing Couples Approach Their Parenting Plan Discussions? by Susan Ingram

{3:06 minutes to read}

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 they 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 their 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; and
  • any special needs of the children (such as disabilities or health issues).

When creating the plan:

Be Specific

Typically, it’s best for a parenting plan to be as specific as possible. For example, both the routine weekly/monthly schedule, as well as the specific holiday schedules, should 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, etc.).

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, there is some degree of friction, so specificity definitely works best.

Build in a Review Process

Provide a mechanism for periodic review/re-evaluation of the plan. This is especially important if the children are young. One of my couples, 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.

Use Mediation

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 best meets the needs of their children. Additionally, research shows that post-divorce, couples are much more likely to comply with an agreement that they have worked on together through mediation.

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