As a separated parent myself, I know first-hand how challenging it can be to figure out a new parenting routine after separation or divorce. Suddenly you’re navigating custody arrangements, access schedules, and all the logistics around raising kids with your former spouse – all whilst dealing with the emotional toll that ending a relationship and dividing assets etc. can take.

With all this in mind, a written parenting plan is so important if you want to establish clear rules of play as you move forward with your coparenting after a toxic relationship. A parenting plan sets clear expectations and responsibilities for both parents (Source: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/parenting-family/co-parenting-tips-for-divorced-parents.htm). It outlines custody, visitation schedules, decision-making, and other aspects of raising children post-divorce. Having this plan in writing goes a long way in reducing conflicts and ambiguity down the road.

A parenting plan encourages parents to proactively make agreements rather than leaving it up to the courts. It allows you to do what is truly best for your kids during this transition. Most importantly, a thoughtful co-parenting plan reduces the chances for ongoing disagreements and confusion with your ex-spouse.

If you’re going through a divorce or separation, it’s likely that many of the conversations you’ll be having, certainly in the early days, are very emotionally charged. As you and your ex are trying to establish new coparenting boundaries around the care of your child, you might find that you disagree on key areas and that it ends up causing friction and, in many cases, arguments.

A parenting plan is a brilliant way for you and whoever else has parental responsibility to establish some guiding rules and principles around which you’ll both align to raise your children together.

This post explains what a parenting plan is, whether or not it’s legally binding, and how it works. I’ll also share my story and how it’s impacted me as a separated father.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a legal document that outlines custody arrangements, access schedules, decision-making responsibilities, and other details regarding how separated parents will raise their children (Source). Parenting plans encourage parents to proactively make agreements about childrearing instead of leaving major decisions up to the courts. Having an organised, comprehensive parenting plan allows you to do what is in the best interests of your children.

A key benefit of creating a parenting plan is that it reduces ambiguity and the chances for conflict later on. With a clear plan spelt out, there’s less room for misunderstanding and disagreements over scheduling, responsibilities, etc. The level of detail and forethought that goes into a parenting plan can prevent many co-parenting problems from arising in the first place, and can be a useful supporting document should you ever need to go to court.

Key Things to Discuss

Creating an effective co-parenting plan requires making decisions about several key issues after separation or divorce. According to family law experts, the following are essential to discuss and outline in your parenting plan:

Custody Arrangements

You’ll need to determine legal custody (decision-making authority) and physical custody schedules. Common arrangements include joint legal custody with one parent having primary residential custody, or joint physical and legal custody. Outline your agreed custody specifics clearly.

Detailed Visitation Schedule

Create a detailed parenting time calendar showing when each parent will have the children. Consider holidays, birthdays and other special occasions. Try to allow for flexibility when possible. Include pickup/drop-off logistics.

Holidays and Special Occasions

Determine which holidays each parent will have the kids. Specify times and transportation details. Also consider how to handle birthdays, Mother’s/Father’s Day, vacations, etc.

Decision Making

Specify how major decisions will be made regarding education, health care, extracurricular activities, etc. If you have joint legal custody, will decisions require mutual agreement or can one parent decide? Outline your process.

Communication Methods

Agree on how you’ll communicate about scheduling, the children’s needs, and other co-parenting issues. Popular options include apps, email, texting. Set expectations for response time.

Dispute Resolution Process

Have an plan for resolving disagreements productively and minimising conflict. Consider mediation, collaborative law, or returning to court as a last resort. The goal is reducing negative impact on the children.

Sample Parenting Plan Schedules

There are many different ways to structure a parenting plan schedule. Some common options include:

Alternating Weeks

With this schedule, one parent has custody for an entire week and then they alternate. For example, Mom has the kids Week 1, Dad Week 2, Mom Week 3, and so on. This provides longer uninterrupted time for vacations and activities, but can mean going a full week without seeing your kids.

2-2-3 Schedule

The 2-2-3 schedule alternates every 2 days. For example, Mom has the kids Monday/Tuesday, Dad Wednesday/Thursday, then Mom Friday-Sunday. This allows more frequent transitions and contact for both parents.

Long Distance Plans

For parents living far apart, plans may include longer blocks of time over school breaks and summers. Travel logistics, costs, and schedules need to be defined.

When evaluating different schedules, consider your work situation, kids’ ages, transitions impact, and more. Sample calendars can be helpful for visualizing options. Customize to your family’s needs.

For more examples, see: https://www.custodyxchange.com/topics/schedules/overview/sample-parenting-time-schedules-7-examples.php

Resolving Disagreements

No matter how much you plan ahead, disagreements over parenting arrangements are inevitable after a separation or divorce. It’s important to establish a process for resolving conflicts to avoid returning to court repeatedly.

Mediation can help parents compromise and reach mutually satisfactory agreements. You can designate a neutral third party or mediator to help facilitate discussions and guide you towards compromise (Parenting Time Disputes).

When possible, try to find middle ground through open communication and a willingness to accommodate the other parent’s needs. Be flexible and don’t get caught up in rigid arrangements. Remember that the goal is doing what’s best for the children (The Best Ways to Solve Disagreements About Parenting Plans).

You can modify the parenting plan over time as circumstances change. Schedule periodic reviews and updates to account for your child’s evolving needs. Tweak pick-up/drop-off times, vacation schedules, etc. if something isn’t working.

Going back to court should be an absolute last resort. Court battles are draining emotionally and financially. Judges may end up imposing new terms that neither parent wants. Always aim to resolve issues cooperatively outside of court if humanly possible.

Parenting Plan Template

Cafcass is a great starting point if you’re looking for a parenting plan template to get you started.
You can download a template here.

Mistakes to Avoid

When creating your parenting plan, there are some common mistakes you’ll want to avoid:

  • Inflexible schedules – Having no room for adjustments based on changing needs or circumstances can lead to issues. Build in some flexibility if possible (source: https://kufferlaw.com/blog/6-parenting-plan-mistakes-to-avoid/).
  • Too many transitions – Frequent back-and-forth transitions between parents can be disruptive for kids. Try to limit transitions where you can (source: https://www.ourfamilywizard.com/blog/parenting-mistakes-after-divorce).
  • Unclear rules or details – Ambiguous language can cause confusion and conflict. Be as specific as possible about schedules, responsibilities, etc.
  • Not consulting kids – Get input from your children on scheduling based on their needs. But don’t put them in the middle.
  • Not considering changing needs – Your plan will likely need to evolve as your kids grow older and their needs change.

How a parenting plan helped me

You’d be amazed at how many messages I receive that say the same thing:

“I’m finding communication with my ex extremely difficult because they just want to control everything”

The funny thing is, if you go and speak to the other parent, they’re probably going to tell you exactly the same thing.

Separating with another parent is rough.

Divorce/parental separation means establishing a new dynamic between you both over what is a very emotional topic – your child.

When I went through this process 5 years ago, there was a time I thought we’d never be able to communicate.

I felt my daughter’s mum dictating to me and, because I pushed back, I’m sure she felt the same about me.

Arguments escalated, communication deteriorated and, before long, solicitors letters were flying about at a cost of £500 EACH.

I found myself in debt VERY QUICKLY and promptly realised all we were doing was polarising each other, making reconciliation impossible.

Eventually, we agreed to mediation, which was the best thing we ever did.

We struggled to come to an agreement initially, but with the balanced view of the media, we eventually came to an agreement on things like schedules, what happens on birthdays, Christmases, holidays…and so on.

Our mediator then pulled this all into something called a ‘Parenting Plan’, sometimes referred to as a coparent in agreement.

This was our bible.

This document was what allowed us to work to clearly established boundaries, and work together in a way that was pre-agreed, consistent and manageable.

Over time, things became easier.

In the early days we stuck RIGIDLY to the document, but as that new layer of trust formed, we became more flexible when necessary and communication improved.

That one little document was what transformed the trajectory of a very difficult separation into one that was the best it could be for our little girl, which was always what this was all about.

If you’re struggling to find balance with your ex, I strongly recommend going to see a mediator and forming a parenting plan. There’s no guarantee you ex partner will stick to it, but it’s a starting point as you move to a new life for all of you.

Conclusion

Creating an effective co-parenting plan is crucial for reducing conflict and ensuring your children’s needs are met after separation or divorce. The plan should outline custody, visitation schedules, decision-making, and dispute resolution processes. When creating your plan, focus on compromising and flexibility, consulting your children, and resolving disagreements through mediation if needed. An effective co-parenting plan allows you to do what’s best for your kids while minimizing disputes with your ex-partner. With some thoughtful planning and commitment to cooperation, you can develop a plan that works for your family’s situation.

In summary, here are some final tips:

  • Be as detailed as possible – set clear expectations to avoid issues down the road.
  • Build in some flexibility for changing needs and schedules.
  • Communicate respectfully and compromise when you disagree.
  • Mediate conflicts if you reach an impasse.
  • Update your plan periodically as your children grow up.
  • Focus on your kids’ wellbeing – not just “fairness” between parents.

With some forethought and commitment to cooperation, you and your ex can develop an effective co-parenting routine. This will ease the transition for your kids and lead to better outcomes.

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