Creating a workable parenting plan is one of the most stressful aspects of divorce. Both you and the other parent love your children and want to maximize your time with them. It is hard to imagine that you might not be with them on holidays or have them living with you throughout the week. While both of you want to do what is best for your child, it can be difficult to determine what that is. Do you know how to develop a workable parenting plan?
The elements of a parenting plan
You and your spouse will be asked to devise a parenting plan to present to the court for approval. A parenting plan clearly establishes parenting responsibilities, when children will be with each parent and the role of child support.
The parenting plan determines which spouse has “primary residence.” This phrase indicates which parent will have physical custody of the children for the majority of the time. The exact amount of time varies by family. Custody during holidays, weekends and other special arrangements are also finalized.
A parenting plan also establishes which parent(s) can make important decisions on behalf of their children, such as education, medical care and religion. Decision-making authority is typically awarded to both parents, unless extenuating circumstances make this arrangement unfavorable.
Factors impacting “primary residence”
Many factors are evaluated before primary residence is awarded to either parent. The court commonly examines:
- Parent-child relationships
- Past parenting roles and responsibilities
- The child’s relationships with family, school and the surrounding area
- Importance of providing a stable environment
- Domestic abuse or neglect
- The child’s preference (if old enough to contribute)
- Each parent’s career demands
Overall, the child’s needs are placed at the center of consideration. They are valued over convenience or a parent’s individual wishes.
Settling differences as a team
You and your ex-spouse may struggle to determine a parenting plan that you are both happy with. Disagreements are natural, but it is important to try to constructively resolve differences. Working together as a team can be beneficial for your children and set a tone for future harmony.
If you are unable to reach agreement in mediation, the court will determine a parenting plan for you. This should be a last resort. While well-intentioned, a family court judge does not know the intricacies of your family and its needs like you do. Determining your own parenting plan has a better chance of satisfying the complex needs of all family members.
Remember that this is a time of transition for the whole family. Listen to your children’s concerns, and reassure them that they are loved and will be well-cared for throughout the process.