Creating a Perfect Parenting Plan in 6 Steps
At the start, divorce feels like a win/lose situation. One parent may seem to have it all on paper, while the other struggles to make ends meet. On the flip side, the parent who seemingly has it all finds that they have little time to spend with their kids, while the other parent is with them all the time.
Whether or not this example speaks to your situation, finding a balance between family life, your child's best interests, your emotions, and everything else is essential to every family when creating a perfect parenting plan. Many points must be considered when crafting the parenting plan that will work best for your family, from schedules and holidays to finances and communication. While your situation may call for you to consider points particular to your situation and call for additional steps, these six basic steps will be a great help for any parent to consider in creating the perfect parenting plan.
Step 1: Understand your child's best interests
The perfect parenting plan should uphold your child's best interests first and foremost. Their best interests encompass the most critical aspects of their life which include both their physical and emotional needs. You may have the answers to what your child's best interests are already, but taking the time to consider them seriously will help you to create a "map" that guides you towards crafting the perfect parenting plan.
Every family is different, and your parenting schedule must be tuned to meet your family's specific needs. It can be helpful to consider both your child's physical and emotional needs when mapping out a plan that is in their best interests.
- Physical needs like shelter, food, clothing, mobility, exercise, rest, medical care, protection from harm, etc.
- Emotional needs like upholding a healthy mental state, maintaining relationships with both parents, handling their temperament, etc.
Some parents may also consider their child's particular wishes when gauging their best interests. Their age and developmental stage often impact how much weight their wishes come into play.
Other topics that can have a direct impact on a child's best interests and your parenting plan may include:
- Distance between parents' homes
- Distance from each home to their school, extracurricular activities, friends, and other relevant locations
- Work schedules for each parent
Remember that these are only a few points concerning your child's best interests to examine when working out your parenting plan. Be sure to cover other matters that might be specific to your child or family.
Step 2: Choose a parenting schedule that works
Your parenting schedule will dictate your family's new routine and give everyone an idea of how much time your child will spend with you and your co-parent. It's an important aspect of your parenting plan, so it's essential to find a schedule that genuinely works for your family and stick to it.
There are so many ways to organize a parenting schedule and pick a routine that's right for your family, depending on your child's needs as well as those of you and your co-parent. It's also important to note that your parenting schedule may change over time to meet your child's needs as they grow and change. A younger child may do better with frequent visits with both parents, while older children may find it easier to manage less frequent changeovers.
Many family courts recommend that parents go with some kind of 50/50 time split, meaning that both parents have equal time with their child. A 50/50 parenting schedule could be arranged in many ways, such as:
- Biweekly rotation - One week with one parent, and one week with the other parent
- 2-2-5-5 rotation - Two days with one parent, and two days with the other parent. Then, five days back with the first parent, and five days with the other parent. A 3-3-4-4 rotation has a similar structure.
- 2-2-3 rotation - Two days with one parent, and two days with the other parent. Then a three day weekend with the first parent and the cycle continues back to two days with the other parent and so on.
Parenting schedules with a 50/50 time split are great for many but not adequate for all families. For those who must go with a different routine, alternating weekends and mid-week visitations can be a workable option. However, in the case where one parent lives too far away for regular visitations to take place, you may consider working out a plan for your child to spend an extended period with that parent such as over summer or winter break.
On top of your regular parenting schedule, don't overlook your plan for holidays and special dates like birthdays. It will be much easier to confront these dates if you have a solid plan already in place.
Step 3: Have a plan for communication
It's easy to assume that you'll figure out how best to keep in contact with your co-parent and your children as you ease into your shared parenting routine. Yet once your child starts moving between homes and you face the challenge of truly needing to keep all of their most important information organized and available in both houses, you may find that you desire a more structured form of communication. Don't wait until that time to make decisions about communication.
As part of your parenting plan, determine how you and your co-parent will stay in touch and share updates about your child. Co-parenting apps like OurFamilyWizard provide a framework for co-parenting communication, creating a secure, all-in-one platform that you can rely on as you manage your parenting plan. For keeping in touch with your children when you're apart, video messaging or daily phone call is an easy way to make the distance feel less.
Step 4: Know how you will make big decisions and handle legal custody
Major life decisions that concern your child are not ones to take lightly. As such, if you and your co-parent share legal custody, craft a plan for how you will handle various decisions together.
Choices that you will confront over time include decisions about your child's education, medical care, religious practice, and cultural influences. In your parenting plan, document your initial decisions and come up with a plan for how you will communicate on these matters moving forward.
Also, have a plan for important decisions that must be made in an emergency. As much as you never wish to be in a situation where a quick decision must be made such as in the event of an injury, it is undoubtedly better to be prepared if you are confronted with a moment like this.
Step 5: Go over your child's finances
No matter how legal and physical custody and parenting responsibilities are shared between parents, both parents are typically held responsible for their child's finances to some degree. Child support is often mandated to help cover the essential living costs plus some extras for a child, which can be very important if one parent has more to offer financially than the other.
Be clear about what your child support payments will cover. It can be useful to keep a running log of child-related expenses for the sake of documenting what was spent. Even if most of those expenses were covered by child support, keeping this documentation can help each parent see what they are each spending on their child. Each parent can take this knowledge and use it to help dictate their own household spending.
More than just what is covered by child support, have a plan for how to handle costs that might not be covered by those payments. Know how you plan to divide responsibility for these items and utilize a secure method of reimbursements as they are requested.
The steps mentioned here cover much of what divorcing parents must consider when creating the perfect parenting plan, yet there might be other matters that are specific to your situation to address. Speak with your attorney or other family law practitioners you work with for one-on-one guidance on your parenting plan.
Step 6: Maintain your goals
Once your parenting plan is set and in motion, now is the time to keep specific goals in mind to help make your perfect plan a success today and into the future. In doing so, it can help to imagine how you want your child to look back on this time of their life. While it may not be without some stressful memories of adjusting to this new family arrangement, strive to create positive memories for your child to look back on.
Don't think of your parenting plan as being about winning or losing, or even about proving which parent is more qualified to care for your child. Aim your goals towards creating a cooperative and flexible co-parenting partnership. Your child deserves to have a strong, healthy relationship with you and their other parent, and having a working partnership as co-parents can help to support your child's relationship with each of you.
Settling on parenting arrangements after divorce isn't necessarily easy or quick, yet when done right, you can create the perfect parenting plan for your family. To help you get started, this free parenting plan checklist can guide you through the various steps of crafting the right plan for your family.
NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.
Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.