When parents sit down and create a parenting plan, or when custody orders are made by the court, there are typically several things that are automatically included. Things such as which parent will have the custody and control of the children during each day, who will be in charge of specific extracurricular activities, where the children will go to school, who the children will be with during the holidays, who the medical providers will be, rules required to change the child’s school etc. are generally included in most plans.
However, there are several things that oftentimes go unmentioned. While it’s impossible to include every single foreseeable important issue in your parenting plan, the point of a parenting plan/ custody orders is to ensure that there is little room for misunderstanding, misinterpretation, and that the plan can easily be enforced if the need arises.
Just like any other contract, more is better than less. The more specific and clear you are regarding the terms of the agreement, the less confusion and conflict there will likely be.
When developing your parenting plan, there are many things to consider, but the most important thing that should guide you in making decisions, is what’s best for your children.
Here are some specifics to consider including in your parenting agreement:
- Who is responsible for transporting your children to and/or from one parent to the other? Where will custody exchanges take place and at what time? May 3rd parties be present during the exchanges? (If one parent is often in the company of someone who likes to initiate or instigate contact, you can ask the court for orders specifying who can and cannot be present during exchanges.
- What happens if one parent has to cancel their time? Do they get makeup time with your child? Or is it just forfeited?
- What if one parent decides to move? Do they have to provide the address to the other parent? (they should), and how far in advance or after the move should the new address be provided to the other parent?
- Child care – who is allowed to babysit your children? Friends? Family? A mutually chosen babysitter? Anyone?
- Will the children get phone time with the other parent when they aren’t with them and vice versa? If so, on what days, how many times? And at what specific time?
- New significant others – when will they be able to meet your children?
- Contact with certain people – are there certain people you agree should not have contact with your children?
- Does either parent have special decision making authority on certain issues? For example: is one parent in charge of selecting sports teams, extracurricular activities, the school the children will attend, etc.? or must all of these things be decided jointly. What happens if you can’t agree on things requiring joint decision? Is there a neutral party who can act as your “tie breaker”? or do you have a “rock-paper-scissors” type of solution? (Yes, this matters, because otherwise you’ll end up in front of a judge over every disagreement.)
- Who will have your children for which holidays? Where will holiday exchanges take place and at what exact day and time? If you are splitting spring break, are you meeting at 12 noon on the day that marks halfway mark?
- What is the remedy if either parent habitually violates the agreement? Do you intend for the agreement to be enforced by law enforcement if necessary? If so, specifically state this in the agreement, as some law enforcement agencies are reluctant to get involved if it’s not specified.
- And of course we can’t forget provisions related to expenses – who will be financially responsible for childcare/school tuition? Who will cover the costs of extra-curricular activities? What about medical insurance premiums and uninsured medical expenses, etc.
Although no parenting plan is the same, and all of the above is not necessary for every family, these are just a few of the provisions to consider including in your agreement to avoid confusion and provide clarity, just in case.
It’s better to be have a lot of unnecessary specifics than to not be specific enough, and leave room for mix up. For more tips on how to make co-parenting easy, check out my latest book series, “The Business of Co-Parenting”