When your divorce or separation includes children, one of the most important decisions you will need to make is how you will arrange parenting time with your children. Your parenting plan, also known as custody or visitation, should revolve around the specific needs, challenges, and opportunities of your family.
Whether or not you and your ex can sit down and work out a parenting plan together, or you need to work with a mediator, here are some important considerations for mapping out a successful plan:
Different Kinds of Time to Consider
When you are creating a parenting plan it is recommended that you think about the different kinds of time you spend with your children. For example:
- Regular at-home time (meals, homework, chores)
- Outside activities spent together (sports, shopping, visiting relatives)
- Holidays and special days
- Time the children spend away from both parents (school, friends’ homes)
No matter how much time each parent spends with the child, it should include these kinds of activities.
Also, consider how much input the children should have. Parents need to make decisions for young children, but teens might feel more empowered if they are able to have some input.
How should normal every-day time with each parent be split? With the assumption that there aren’t any safety issues in either home, the answer depends largely on two factors. First, your family’s unique needs and second, the development stage of your children.
First take into consideration the logistics, your work schedules, your children’s activities, how you’ll arrange pick-ups and drop-offs and any childcare arrangements. Can the child get to school from both parents’ house? Also, take into consideration the emotional aspects, how well your child can adapt to transitions, how well siblings get along with each other and other family members and how well you are able to communicate with your ex. Having an understanding of what works for your unique situation will help create a plan that works best for your family.
Next, take into consideration your child’s development stage, are they very young or older? How much attention do they need and how much transition can they handle?
Babies and young children need more attention and structure. Infants need frequent physical contact with each parent, as well as a predictable schedule. Toddlers still need frequent contact but have more awareness of others, so sibling relationships may also be important to them. A plan for a family with infants or toddlers may involve 3 or 4 changes a week (2 days or so at each home, or for one parent to take the children out for a few hours while they are staying with the other parent).
Older children may be more flexible. By the time children reach elementary school age, they can spend a few more days with each parent and can use other types of contact (phone, computer, etc.) to stay connected. A plan for adolescents may involve the children spending a week with each parent. This is a time when they are exploring relationships with peers, so they need their parents to catch them when they fall. However, a plan for teens may involve the children spending a week with each parent.
Dividing the Holidays
Holiday planning doesn’t have to be difficult if you follow some simple steps. When a holiday is important to both families, parents sometimes alternate, so the children spend Christmas with Dad during even years, and Mom during odd years. Or, if parents spend holidays close to each other, they may split the holiday itself, so the children spend the morning with one parent and the evening with the other. Still, in some families, it may work for the parents to spend time with the children together.
How long do you each want to have your children during the summer? Do you take vacations or travel? What kinds of activities are your children in during the summer? Parents often want to keep things as normal as possible, so this is a place where you might want to create a plan that takes your children’s schedules into account.
How well do you and your ex get along? How well is your communication? In a perfect world, we all want to think that we are able to do what’s in the best interest of the child and work out an agreement that benefits them first and foremost and allows fair parenting time for both parents.
However, even though we can start out with the best intentions in mind, divorce is a very emotionally charged experience that can break down good intentions along the way. It is for this reason that you need to make sure your agreement is recorded and protected by a professional outside party who will look out for your needs and rights.
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