Your parenting plan lays out the terms for your child custody arrangement, covering everything from your child's medical care to their behavioral boundaries.
Needless to say, establishing a robust parenting plan is essential for co-parents—but that's easier said than done. Today, we're giving you all the information you need to develop a comprehensive parenting plan that will help your child succeed.
How Does Drafting a Parenting Plan Actually Work?
Most parenting plans are comprised of two “parts:”
- Mandatory clauses, which you're legally required to include in your parenting plan. Mandatory clauses include things like:
- Which parent will be the custodial parent (who the child spends a majority of their time with), and which will be the noncustodial parent.
- How the parents will split time (i.e. which days the child will spend with each parent, how they'll handle holidays, etc.).
- How the parents will take care of legal custody. Legal custody covers items like a child's medical insurance, what medical assistance they receive, where they go to school, what cultures they're exposed to, etc.
- How parents intend to further their child's best interests.
- Non-mandatory clauses. Non-mandatory clauses cover things that aren't legally required to be in a parenting plan. If you include a non-mandatory clause in your parenting plan, it becomes legally binding.
Your attorney can help you navigate mandatory clauses. Where most co-parents run into trouble is by failing to use non-mandatory clauses to supplement their parenting plan.
Today, we're exploring how you can use non-mandatory clauses to help you improve the quality of your parenting plan and co-parenting relationship.
Prevent Parents from Disparaging Each Other
This is a big one that many parents unfortunately overlook.
Your ultimate goal as a parent should be protecting your child's rights and furthering their best interests. The healthier your family dynamic is, the better your child's life will be.
One of the ways many co-parents engaged in joint-custody arrangement fumble is by setting up a “good cop, bad cop dynamic.”
If you disparage your partner in front of your child, or vice versa, your child will feel forced to “pick a side.” While you may have grievances about your ex (and they may be justified), that doesn't mean your child should feel torn between the two of you. Involving your child in the arguments you have with your ex adds an unnecessary stressor to their life and can harm their emotional well-being.
Including a clause preventing you and your co-parent from disparaging one another in your parenting plan makes it legally binding. It can help you facilitate a better family dynamic, improving life for everyone.
Set the Same Boundaries (& Make Them Part of Your Parenting Plan)
Many co-parents also struggle with boundaries. Specifically, making sure both parents have the same ones.
You should set aside a significant amount of time to discuss boundaries with your co-parent while you're drafting your parenting plan. Some things you'll want to discuss include:
- Behavioral expectations for your child. What's acceptable? What isn't?
- Disciplinary restrictions for you and your co-parent. This goes hand in hand with discussing behavioral expectations for your child. You should both take the same measures when you discipline your child.
- Academic expectations. If you expect your child to do their homework before watching TV and your co-parent couldn't care less, you're just begging for a “but mom/dad doesn't make me do that!” fight with your kid. Plus, having the same academic expectations can help you both ensure your child succeeds in school and reduce friction at events like parent-teacher meetings.
- Entertainment restrictions. Today, various social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) and forms of entertainment like videogames are a part of everyday life for kids. You should discuss how you'll handle media with your child. What will your time limits be? What platforms do you feel comfortable with them using? You and your ex should agree on these kinds of details before progressing your parenting plan further.
Think About How COVID-19 Impacts Your Custody Arrangement
COVID-19 is causing parents across the US to reevaluate their parenting plans—something you can avoid by thinking ahead.
Things you'll want to think about include:
- What will happen if you or your co-parent loses your job. COVID-19 has kicked off an economic crisis in the US. You should think about what you'll do if you or your lose your job. How will trying to find a job affect your ability to care for your child? Will you need to modify any child support arrangements you have in place? Being proactive can save you pain in the long run.
- How you'll handle it if schools close down. Schools across the nation are closing due to COVID-19. If your child's school closes, how will that impact your custody arrangement? Will you need to find someone to care for your child if neither of you works from home?
- What will you do if one of you is an essential worker? Essential workers are on the frontlines, meaning they're exposed to the virus regularly. A parent who's an essential worker runs the risk of infecting their child or co-parent with the coronavirus. If you agree it's not safe for one of you to house the child, how will you handle that? Will you use tools like Skype or Facetime to help both parents maintain contact with the child?
- What will you do if one of you gets sick? It may be an uncomfortable question to ask (and answer), but you should make preparations for what you'll do if one of you contracts COVID-19. Setting up a plan for child and medical care can help you tackle this unexpected crisis more productively.
Use COVID-19 as an opportunity to reinforce your parenting plan. Even if you never end up using the precautions you put in place during the pandemic, they may come into play later down the line.
Consider Itemizing Costs
This is the last tip we'll leave you with. Many co-parents split significant childcare costs, like health insurance or medical care. However, you may want to consider itemizing those expenses (for example, having one parent pay for health insurance while the other pays for extracurricular activities).
Itemizing costs can help you smooth out unexpected financial hardships. If you split health insurance and all of a sudden one of you can't pay that month's premiums, the other parent may not be prepared to pick up the slack. Separating costs helps parents budget more effectively.
At the Law Office of Mark M. Childress, we work with parents to develop comprehensive, effective parenting plans and child custody arrangements.