A client comes in equipped with pictures of his children, and a schedule that his soon to be ex-spouse has given him regarding a visitation schedule that she created with limited visits for him. He’s missing out on quality time during the week. He doesn’t get to help with the children’s English homework anymore. He doesn’t get to take the girls to ballet, or the boys to football during the week. Summer is approaching and his wife has said that he cannot take them to the beach. He misses his Wednesday nights with the children where they would watch Disney movies equipped with popcorn wars. He doesn’t understand how they went from a family to him being a less than part-time dad. He doesn’t understand the term “visitation” because they are his children. He asks for more time, but his ex keeps telling him that this is the way the courts do it. It’s just how it is done. He won’t accept that and talks to his attorneys about another option: A Parenting Plan. Here are things to consider when you want to draw up a parenting plan to benefit not only your children, but you, AND your ex:
- Both Parent’s Schedules. It doesn’t make sense to go ahead and plan that the other spouse will have the children while they’re working. That isn’t quality time. Planning is about avoiding scheduling conflicts, not causing actual conflict between the two of you at a later time. The last thing you want to do is continue negotiating with your ex years after the divorce is FINAL. If you two could communicate all the time without issue, you would probably still be married.
- The Children’s Schedules. Children are often pretty busy, sometimes busier than adults. This is because children don’t know what hobbies they love yet. They want to dabble in everything. Why would you, as parent, want to keep a child in something they hate just to keep the other parent from having that time? Why would you, as a parent, deny your child of something they love simply to punish the other parent or to force them to spend time with you? Find something that helps both parents get quality time with the children while also giving them time to dedicate to their favorite hobbies. Participate in their hobbies. Drop the pettiness of not getting along so that both of you can attend events. You don’t have to sit near each other. If you do get forced into sitting near each other, don’t hiss, threaten, or poke each other!
- School Breaks and Holidays: You should look over all school breaks and holidays and correlate to your schedules along with what is feasible for each of you. Pay attention to what is most important to what spouse. If one parent prefers laid back cook out holidays, and the other is super religious, then negotiate. Make exchanges in a festive place like by the mall where the Easter bunny is taking photos, or even a Christmas village. If you both want the same holidays, then negotiate to alternate. It’s like taking turns. We all learned that in kindergarten!!!
- Custody Exchange: Discuss where to drop off and pick up. If you’re afraid of conflict make it somewhere public, but not cold & heartless [cue Kanye’s “Heartless”]. You don’t want your kids remembering being taken to the police station every time you two have to be around each other. Make it a park, or a coffee shop, or even a restaurant and make it a tradition to do something fun like getting pancakes or ice cream after (mmm sugar!). Always have a contingency plan, and discuss it with each other, if the pick up place has to change. Think about what would happen if the kids pick up an afterschool activity, start school, or during breaks from school. These things cause huge changes that may make pick up inconvenient for one parent. Speaking of which, find alternatives that can pick up and drop off that don’t anger you. These would be people who avoid conflict and don’t want to fight with you.
- Decision Making Authority: We all want to be the boss. It makes sense. You want to be the authoritative figure because you are a grown up with responsibilities and little people under your care! However, two of you made this child. Two of you are responsible for this child. Two of you are parenting this child. You must run decisions by each other or the child suffers. Think about the areas of decision making authority and divvy it up. Sharing is caring. As for day to day decisions, these would be the simple ones like what the child is wearing, whether they can watch television, or what toys they play with. Those should belong to who has them in their custody.
- Communication: You should decide a median of communication and stick with it. If one of you prefers email but the other prefers texting, figure out what will work for BOTH of you. Don’t text a response to an email or email a response to a text. That doesn’t make sense. Don’t make more drama than necessary! Also, this goes without saying, but a carrier pigeon is NOT an appropriate form of communication.
- Missed periods of custody: What do you do when little Tommy wants to hang out with Benji during dad’s time each week? Maybe you should switch with dad the next week. Also, if the grandparents request time when your ex can’t keep the kids, don’t use it as a forfeit of time. Allow your children to have a relationship with extended family if it will benefit them. If granny isn’t some sort of mommy dearest, what’s the harm? However, if granny is mommy dearest, and you request that the children not spend time with her, then make sure you address it before she’s spanking your kids with wire hangers!
- Dispute resolution: CUSTODY DISPUTES ARE EXPENSIVE. Think of how you can work out a parenting dispute without getting lawyers, courts, and the subsequent costs involved. Get creative! DON’T ALWAYS RUN TO YOUR LAWYERS. No one likes a tattletale. If you’re old enough to make babies, you’re old enough to raise them. Figure out how to resolve a dispute without having to pay tremendous attorney’s fees and court costs. Perhaps using a counselor, mediator or other type of professional and then using court as a last resort!