When it comes time to separate or divorce, usually the area of most concern is how the children will adjust to their new living arrangements in separate households. Not surprisingly, parents struggle with this transition because of the inevitable uncertainty.
The goal of a parenting plan is to clearly and legally document a plan for logistics, decision-making and communication between parents as they separate and divorce. Research has shown that effective parenting plans created using a mediation process is much more likely to be upheld when it comes time to implement the plan.
Let’s take a look at the issues that can be worked out in mediation:
Issue #1) How much time will we each actually spend with our children? Where will our children live?
Physical custody and overnight parenting time is one of the biggest adjustments parents have to make, especially newer parents with young children.
In mediation, you’ll have the opportunity to have peaceful, productive discussion to work out time-sharing arrangements that are in the best interest of your children:
- Decide whether sole, primary, or joint custody would be best, both in the short and longer-term
- How the kids will get from one place to another, who will pick them up and transport them
- Whether older kids could have input, and how to have the discussion
Issue #2) How do I reach my children (or how can they reach me) when they are with the other parent?
Knowing exactly how and when you can contact your children outside of visitation can be worrisome, especially in the beginning. A parenting plan lays out how you will communicate with your children when they are not in your care:
- Creating a phone schedule to call other parent
- Giving cell phones to your children and permission to contact you
- Using email, texting and social media for contact
- Contact with relatives and significant others, including new relationships
- Contact information, relocation, and foreign travel
Issue #3) What will we do about school and education?
Depending on a child’s age, school is at the heart of their daily routine and future. There is so much to consider. In a mediation process, you will work through all the decisions around your children’s education:
- How custody arrangements could impact what school they attend
- Whether to take them out of private school until finances stabilize
- Specific actions both mom and dad will take to keep kids motivated
- Who attends parent-teacher conferences
- Religious school education
- Access to school records
- Planning for college
Issue #4) How can I be sure my kids will have decent medical care?
Another concern parents have is how to keep tabs on a child’s health when they are not in their care every day. In mediation, you will decide how to divide up responsibilities for medical care and treatment:
- Decide who the kids see for doctors and dentist.
- When a parent should be notified for medical-related emergencies, test results and mental health care.
- Special provisions for children with special physical or mental health needs.
Issue #5) How can we maintain stability in how we raise our children?
It’s difficult to figure out how to discipline your kids during the most unpredictable time of their lives. In mediation, you will set ground-rules for your children that are consistent in both households and also build on the strength of your individual parenting styles.
- Restrictions on junk food, computer time and media viewing
- Appropriate punishments and types of rewards
- Establish bedtimes and curfews
- Continue or adopt religious rituals
Issue #6) What about special occasions, breaks, and holiday time?
Family events, celebrations and extended time-off require careful advance planning to minimize confusion and tension. In mediation, you will plot out the calendar year so everyone knows his or her obligations far ahead of time:
- Where the kids will spend their birthdays, your birthdays, and holidays, and who is responsible for planning
- Sharing time over winter or spring break, and how summer vacations will be spent
- Establishing spending limits on gift-giving
- Considering the impact on kid’s social activities and school functions
Issue #7) What if we still have problems after the agreement is final?
Children grow and their needs will change. Parents’ lives also change. Therefore, you can’t anticipate every issue in the present moment. That’s why your parenting plan is flexible and easily modifiable. You can hire a mediator to redraft your agreement and adapt to new situations, with no need to go to court, or simply modify the agreement yourselves, notarize and file with the court.
Final words of wisdom for your parenting plan:
- Build in terms for how parents will communicate post-divorce
- Know ahead what issues must be mutually-decided upon
- Agree to use mediation if you can’t work something out