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What should you include in your parenting plan?

The easier question may be what not to include. As you and the other parent struggle to figure out how to continue raising your children from two separate homes, you have a lot to consider. If you try to include every possible eventuality in your parenting plan, you may never get it done, and it could be thousands of pages long since life is unpredictable enough, and when you add children, it becomes even more so.

The better strategy may be to focus on the essentials of a parenting plan. The elements below could provide you with an outline for your plan. You and your soon-to-be former spouse can then fill in the blanks with the details that make it work for your family.

Legal custody

If you intend to share physical custody of the children then it only makes sense that each of you has the right to weigh in on important decisions that could affect the course of their children's lives such as education, religion and health care. However, you need to address some real world concerns such as how to make decisions if only one parent is available and how to resolve disputes regarding these types of decisions. 

Physical custody

This part of your parenting plan deals with the children's living arrangements. More than likely, each of you wants to be with the children as much as possible. However, if work schedules and distance between your homes does not allow for that, you will have to make adjustments. Each of you will also need to consider whether you have adequate living space for the children while you have them in your respective homes.

This section outlines weekly visitation schedules (especially during the school year), holidays and summer breaks. You may even want to include a section regarding when and where exchanges will take place, along with any ground rules you both deem necessary.

The issue of other relatives may also need addressing. Extended family from both sides may still want to be a part of the children's lives in some capacity, and the children may want to continue to have contact with them as well. You may also want to include any stipulations on communications with the children are with the other parent.

Vacations, social activities and school functions and breaks

These areas often cause the most dissension between parents, so it would be helpful to include them in your parenting plan. This section should address questions such as the following:

  • Will both parents attend all school functions?
  • Will both parents have input regarding the children's social activities?
  • Will the children spend vacation time with each parent?
  • Will the parents and the children continue to go on vacation as a family?
  • Will the parents split the children's breaks during the school year?

Addressing these questions now could avoid unnecessary confrontations later.

Decision-making, communication and dispute resolution

You and the other parent may need to spell out some ground rules regarding communication with each other. You are never going to agree 100 percent of the time, and you need to establish a process for making decisions regarding the children and for resolving any disputes that will more than likely arise between the two of you.

You and the other parent can fill in these categories in whatever way you believe will best serve your children's interests. The choices that you make now could either make the experience a pleasant one or make it difficult for anyone to be happy as you move into a new way of living and being a family. Fortunately, the choice belongs to you and the other parent.

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