“How specific should our parenting plan be?” The short answer to this question is, “Very specific.” The longer answer is that while a divorce already involves a lot of decisions that get to a granular level, a thorough and detailed parenting plan is in everyone’s best interest.
A Parenting Plan Serves as a Container
A detailed plan is a container for potential conflicts. Potential arguments over issues such as where the kids spend their holidays, access to electronics, or how they meet their parent’s new partners can be avoided if they are spelled on in a legal document. A well-written parenting plan benefits everyone by providing a clean plan that can be referred to as needed.
A Parenting Plan Provides a Starting Point – Not an Ending Point
While a well-written parenting plan is detailed, the best parents will deviate from that plan when it makes sense. For example, if your parents are coming into town and it is your co-parent’s time with the kids, you can agree to switch time so that the kids can see their grandparents. A parenting plan can help to resolve issues when you and your co-parent can’t find mutual ground, but as life is unpredictable, a little bit of flexibility can help everyone.
The Process of Making the Decisions Will (Hopefully) Aid Your Future Communication
You are getting a divorce for a reason, so there are likely issues around communication and/or conflict. If you work with a professional to make thoughtful decisions about your child’s future, then ideally you are learning new communication strategies that will benefit your ability to co-parent together. Everyone (adults and kids) will do better moving forward if both parents can effectively and respectfully communicate about the needs of the kids
Creating a thorough parenting plan doesn’t have to be expensive. If you involve a child psychologist with expertise in divorce, you have a professional who trained in both child development needs and in working to improve communication between parents.
This can be less expensive than paying two lawyers to hash out your decisions and it utilizes the specific expertise of each professional. A mental health professional also can help you think through your parenting plan for what your kids need now and how the plan can grow as your children grow. A parenting plan for a five-year-old and a 15-year-old look very different, so creating mechanisms for continued discussions as your children grow can keep you from ending up back in court post-divorce.
One of the most important points is that a parenting plan is only a starting point. While all parents should strive to create a well-written and detailed parenting plan, at the end of the day, your ability to communicate and problem solve will be more important than the parenting plan. This highlights the need to pick a process that promotes, rather than undermines, productive communication.
Both Collaborative Divorce and mediation are designed to put the parents in charge of creating unique solutions that meet the needs of their specific family. In these processes, trained professionals help keep communication productive and work with everyone to learn new ways of communication when needed.
Everyone wants to get through a divorce as quickly and inexpensively as possible. However, there are clear reasons to slow down and be thorough and thoughtful when it comes to creating your parenting plan. It will be time, money, and discussions well spent if it sets a good foundation for co-parenting moving forward.