Parenting Plans Before, During & After Divorce – why you need one for each stage of your separation
Separation throws everyone’s life into turmoil. Everything in life is harder because everyone is working through grief, uncertainty, disappointment, and anger. Stress will make everyday tasks at home, work and school more difficult at a time when important decisions need to be made. Starting with a parenting plan as your first step cuts off a lot of potential stress and is the best thing you can do for your kids to provide security and assurance during this time.
A parenting plan is critical for your kids.
Children are creatures of routine and take for granted that the life they know is the only life they will ever have. Kids get a lot of security from structure and predictability, the younger they are the more dependent they are on it but even adults like some level of stability. Although it feels slightly unnatural to parent based on a set schedule, having a detailed parenting plan is the best thing you can do for your kids. Anytime you and your Ex can agree to change the schedule, you are free to do so, but the parenting plan is always there to settle disagreements.
A parenting plan lets you carry forward the structure and rules that you both have always agreed on such as bedtime, screen time, and homework rules before the chaos of your new situation creeps in and starts decaying these mutual ideals. Maintaining the rules from before, and having BOTH households enforce them equally provides your kids consistency during a very uncertain time. It lets them know that their life is going to keep being the same in a lot of ways and it makes life less chaotic for them.
Having a set schedule for the kids is extremely important from their perspective. Even an infant will benefit if contact between the parents is at regular intervals instead of every 3 days then once every 10 days, then every other day.
Toddlers and young school kids need to know who is responsible for them after school and know where they are going every night. They need predictability in their schedule and a way to remember their new routine. It’s scary for them when they forget if mom is going to be there or dad is going to be there and someone is 10 minutes late. Even if they were okay with this pre-separation, life is very different for them now so they will be extra sensitive and need extra support.
Older kids who have friends and activities outside of school don’t want their activities and plans interrupted because their parents decide at the last minute what the parenting schedule will be. You have a responsibility to communicate to your children what the schedule for their life will be and to stick to it!!! Of course things come up, of course everyone should strive to be empathetic, reasonable, and flexible but within the set framework that the parenting plan gives you.
A parenting plan is critical for YOU.
It is extremely difficult not to have your children with you all of the time. It is incredibly hard to be a single parent. A parenting plan lets you balance these two by letting you plan your time so that you can do the things that must get done while the kids are gone, and therefore you can have more quality time to spend with your children when they are with you. It gives you a chance to make advance plans with your children for weekends and it lets you make plans to do adult things for yourself, such as seeing your friends and pursuing your own interests. Your life is already chaotic with all of the changes going on, the more pieces of the puzzle that can be certain, the better.
The parenting plan offers structure that will help you avoid ambiguity and conflict. Again – anytime you mutually agree to depart from the parenting plan you can! BUT, if anything comes up that cannot be agreed upon, hopefully your parenting plan will address it and it can be the final decider. This means you don’t have to get in touch with your attorney, you don’t have to run to mediation, you don’t have to fight for hours – the answer has already been given via your parenting plan. You can renegotiate the parenting plan if it isn’t working but for a little while, you at least know what to expect.
Why you need multiple parenting plans along the way.
Things are always changing in children’s live, and that is under normal circumstances! Now you are in a period of extreme change so you don’t know what will work out best for tomorrow, you’re doing good to know what works best for today. In addition, things in your life and your kids’ life will be very different immediately after separation then how they are after the final order of divorce. Everyone will end up going through a lot during that time and there’s no way to know what your new life is going to look like so far in advance. Sometimes you don’t know how it’s going to go with kids until you give it a try, be willing to experiment along the way before you agree to anything final.
Decide on a parenting plan before you separate.
A parenting plan pre-separation or immediately after separation may be your most important one. You do not need an attorney to go to mediation. You do not need to have filed for divorce to have a parenting plan. Be aware though, if you agree to a parenting plan, it can be used as a standard for what a court would find reasonable. You may be bound to the general idea of it later. For instance, if you agree that the kids will spend one week with you and then one week with your Ex, something dramatic would have to change if you later wanted your Ex to only have every other weekend with the kids.
Creating a parenting plan before you separate has several advantages:
- It keeps your kids from ever wondering when they will see either parent. Kids can’t help but fear being rejected or abandoned during separation. Giving them an exact schedule of when they are going to see their other parent, and creating the routine and stability that comes with a parenting plan will help them through this time.
- It keeps the original rules in place as the kids transfer from one home to two homes, giving them predictability and stability.
- It lays out your common goals and the things you’ve always agreed about on parenting before different patterns have been established and conflict begins.
The parenting plan that gets approved by the court will be comprehensive and much more permanent.
A typical divorce takes about one year to be final; so many things will change during that time you will absolutely want to review and revise your parenting plan once you have separated and are represented by an attorney. You will want to make sure you have set up a schedule that works for your new circumstances and for what life is going to be like in the foreseeable future.
This is the parenting plan that will be fully comprehensive and will cover any and every detail you think is important. You should, at a minimum, have details on holidays, vacations, secondary care for when a parent isn’t available, and long-term issues such as college and future expenses. This parenting plan should give you both an opportunity to fine-tune things that may not be working or that could be working better. Revising your parenting plan during your divorce gives you the benefit of:
- Having experimented with a schedule, knowing what works and what doesn’t and making the plan more optimized to your kids’ needs;
- Addressing issues you had not anticipated and resolving unforeseen problems;
- Having advice of legal counsel;
- Giving you a chance to establish your new routine and situation on which to build a new schedule around.
You should review your parenting plan on a regular basis.
Post-divorce, you may want to review your parenting plan on a yearly basis. Kids change so much year to year. By touching base with each other once a year in a neutral setting, you can both get on the same page with where your kids are and what is important for them. If you can communicate well enough to address your children’s changing needs on your own, then write down the new details and sign your names and that will be sufficient. By having a review of your parenting plan you can discuss issues before they become ‘problems’ and offer your kids more stability and certainty between both homes. You decrease conflict because:
- Both parties recognize that any issues or problems with the parenting plan will be addressed at a specific time so you don’t pick endless fights – you have a set date and time that you can resolve these issues.
- It gives you an opportunity to have open and honest communication about your children, to re-evaluate the immediate and future goals you both share, and find new ways to accomplish those goals. This can be especially valuable if you disagree on how to parent as your child grows older.
Remember, the parenting plan is what is best for your kids!
It may seem burdensome or it may not be the parenting plan you want but try to see it not as a schedule being imposed on you but time to cherish because you will be with your children uninterrupted. Your kids are always looking for the safety that comes with predictability and consistency and they need the security not to feel abandoned or rejected by either parent.
Keep in mind, the parenting plan only benefits your children if it is honored. The safety that comes from knowing where they will be and who they will be with vanishes if someone is an hour late or if things are rearranged or cancelled in the last minute. Especially in the beginning, follow the schedule strictly until a pattern and clear showing of love and security is reestablished.
Parenting on a schedule can seem disruptive, forced, or just plain wrong. The only thing worse for a child is NOT parenting on a schedule.