How to use a parenting plan to make divorce with children easier
Making arrangements to ensure your children are cared for and happy is the most important part of the divorce process for parents and can be challenging. A good way to do this is by using a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a voluntary agreement between a child’s parents. It is a document that describes how you and your ex-partner will raise your child now that you are divorcing.
A parenting plan is not as unusual as it sounds. You most likely had a parenting plan when you were with your partner, but it just wasn’t written down. You and your partner probably established rules for things like mealtimes, bedtimes and how much TV your children could watch. These rules and expectations constituted your parenting plan.
Now that you are divorcing, you need to talk with your partner to agree on how you will bring up your children. The parenting plan provides the framework for this conversation. A coherent plan will help reduce misunderstandings and conflict and provide everyone involved with clear boundaries.
If your relationship is particularly strained, approach this arrangement as a business partnership, where your business is raising your children in the best possible way. In this context, a parenting plan is somewhat like a business plan, as it describes how you will co-parent your children now that you are divorcing.
Elements of the parenting plan
The parenting plan starts by detailing when both parents will have access to their children. This can be a difficult topic and a source of conflict, especially in the short term. However, the parenting plan is medium to long term; it is where we want to get to.
You need to think about when and how often you will see your children. Understandably, you will want to see them as much as possible, but this will be dependent on several factors.
Will you see them on weekends only, or can you see them on some weeknights as well? How long will you see them for? During the day or overnight too? Consider what you will do with them when you are with them. Think about what help or what resources you will need to establish the contact. Don’t forget about other relationships, such as with grandparents. Grandparents will miss your children too, so consider how often you can facilitate those visits and add them to the parenting plan.
Holidays and special events
How will the school holidays be split between parents? Can you divide all of the school holidays between you and their mum, or do you need to organise childcare? Can you both take the children out of the country at holiday time?
Think about your parenting plan for special events, such as birthdays and Christmas. Will you alternate or both attend? The children would be delighted if both parents were present on Christmas Day, but this can sometimes be difficult. So, what will you do? Will you visit during the day? And how will you decide who buys which presents?
If you have young children, agree on who will buy presents for other special days such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Will you do it or will the grandparents?
Some elements of the parenting plan will depend on your child’s age. If they are young, they are unlikely to have their own phone. The frequency of contact via phone or video messaging will greatly depend on the current state of your relationship with their mother. If you are on good terms, communication is likely to be more regular and flexible. But if the relationship is strained, you might have to schedule specific times during the week.
The next section describes house rules in each home. Many rules will be the same for both parents, but it is okay if they are different as long as there are clear boundaries and the differing rules don’t negatively affect the other parent. For example, it would be unreasonable to regularly allow your child to stay up past 10pm over the weekend if their bedtime is usually 7pm and if the late nights make them tired for school.
Children love routine, so consider the various elements of their day and decide whether they need to be included in the parenting plan. What time do they wake up? What do they have for breakfast? Will you have rules about eating certain foods before treats or staying at the table until everyone is finished? When should homework be done? What other tasks or jobs do they have? How much screen time can they have? How will you discipline the children?
Discuss internet and social media access. Will you let them go on YouTube or Facebook? Up to what age classification of films can they watch? What computer games can they play? Can they play with their friends outside? What time do they have to be home?
How can you both be involved in your children’s education? What arrangements will you make for parents’ evening, school plays and sports days? How will you discuss and agree on choices around school, college and university?
How a parenting plan can help communication
The parenting plan also describes how you and your ex-partner will communicate with one another. Will it be via phone? Text? Messaging service, such as WhatsApp or email? Are there inappropriate times to contact each other? What is the procedure in an emergency?
How will you manage disagreements between the two of you? What decisions, if any, must you take jointly? How much notice do you need for a change in any of the arrangements? What happens if one of you dies? Checking out is obviously not on your to-do list, but every 22 minutes, a parent with dependent children dies in the UK.
We provide support for our children, usually with monthly payments from our earnings, but what happens if we die? Who will support them then? Take out a life insurance policy so that your children will still be supported if you die. It provides peace of mind, and it does not have to cost a lot of money.
Don’t be a perfectionist and assume that you must reach an agreement on every aspect of the parenting plan for it to be worthwhile. Start with the essentials and secure your time with your children. Further arrangements will develop over time as you and your ex adjust to the dynamics of your new partnership.
For more help with divorce and children, read our article, how to reduce the stress.