A parenting plan might contain some or all of the following elements:
Collaborative Parenting Plans
This type of plan will work for separated parents who can treat one another with decency and sensitivity, who acknowledge the importance of both parents to the children, and who work hard to foster all the relationships that are important for their children. They talk to one another regularly about the children. Their children's friends are welcome in either home. In some cases they come together for Christmas, birthday parties, and the like. Many separated parents are doing this!
No matter how well you are getting on with your ex-partner, a written parenting plan is still a valuable asset. Even in the most amicable of separated households, misunderstandings arise. People (and children) are different and sometimes difficult. Circumstances change; unexpected things happen. The separated family is a special family and calls for special effort. At times it's easy for the best of parents to lose heart, to feel exhausted, to wonder if their efforts are worthwhile.
A well-constructed and principled parenting plan can help you through tough times. You can take it out and read it again. You can discuss it with your ex-partner or your children. It will help you renew your commitment and maybe your enthusiasm. A key feature of a collaborative parenting plan is the commitment of both parents to consult one another on issues that affect the children, their welfare and development.
Q: I'm finding what to do about the children's arrangements incredibly difficult. I feel so upset for them. I don't trust their father to do the right thing by them. I don't want to have anything to do with him. I don't want them staying overnight with his girlfriend there, and I want him to feed them properly and stick to sensible bedtimes. Can I have this in a parenting plan?
A: You can have very specific details in your plan, and so can he. There's no limit to what you can have. If you feel he's out of touch with their routines, inform him, perhaps with the help of a mediator if talking with him is uncomfortable for you. You could also write lists for him, as appendices to a plan. While everyone gets used to the separation, you could suggest he spend his time with them without his partner. Try to approach the creation of your plan with an open mind, inviting him to draw up as many clauses as he wants. Work out what issues you want to be consulted on, and aim to set out the arrangements very specifically so you don't need to have much contact with him. You may be well advised to have a neutral third party as a pick-up and drop-off person, so you don't have to see him, and the children don't sense your discomfort.
Parallel Parenting Plans
For parents who find it impossible to get along, parallel parenting can work. That means each household has its own set of rules, and the parents have a minimum of contact and communication. One thing they agree on is the children have two parents and they are going to spend some time in each household according to a determined schedule.
The essential ingredient in such a plan is the commitment of both parents to stick to the terms of their agreement. Moreover, the plan will need to be extremely detailed to cope not only with the children's day-to-day timetables, but also to foresee and deal with expected changes and hiccups.
Where there is ongoing hostility between separated parents and little or no communication, a written parenting plan is essential. With it, and with a firm commitment to abide by the rules, shared parenting can still work. Without it, misunderstandings and confusion will inevitably arise and children will suffer.
Sure, there will be problems, even after implementing the most carefully structured parenting plan. Life's like that! It's never smooth or uneventful, whether your family is intact or separated.
This article has been edited and excerpted with permission from “Shared Parenting: Raising Your Children Cooperatively After Separation”. © 2009 by Jill Burrett and Michael Green, Celestial Arts, an imprint of Ten Speed Press, a division of the Crown Publishing Group, Berkeley, CA. You can purchase the book at amazon.com or randomhouse.ca
For more articles on children and divorce, please visit www.divorcemag.com/articles/Children_and_Divorce.