What Else Does Your Parenting Plan Need to Have?
One of the most important parts of a mediated agreement is the parenting plan.
How will each parent stay connected and spend time with the children?
In legal jargon, this is often referred to as physical custody.
That label doesn’t do justice to the range of care and attention that each parent brings to their responsibility.
What Is A Parenting Plan
The main part of the parenting plan describes where the children will be every day, morning and evening. It covers who is responsible for them, holiday and vacation expectations, and other topics. Clarifying several other essential issues will help avoid conflict as you co-parent. Most if not all of the issues below are actually written into the parenting plan, which is part of your divorce Separation Agreement. (See also Resources at the bottom of this page.)
Parent Right of First Refusal
What happens when a parent can’t be with the children during his/her scheduled time because of a work or social commitment? Generally each parent wants as much time with the children as possible. Most parents want to have the option of being the first one called in this situation.
The right of first refusal (ROFR) is usually for chunks of time like 4-5 hours, not for when the parenting parent needs to run errands or make a quick stop at the grocery store. If the other parent is not available, then the parenting parent must find suitable supervision to handle the situation.
Tips for Right of First Refusal
If you are the parent offering the ROFR:
- Keep in mind that the other parent does not have to say yes.
- If the other parent’s answer is no, do not ask why.
- The regular schedule can resume when you are done with your activity. Let’s say you have a 5-6 hour daytime event on a Saturday and the other parent agrees to care for the children. When the event is over, the regular parenting schedule resumes.
If you are the parent receiving the ROFR offer:
- Do not ask the requesting parent about their plans. The reasons why they need the time are not relevant.
- Provide an answer to the requesting parent within a very short (30 minutes-ish) time as the that parent needs to make arrangements.
Note that the ROFR is not intended to preclude allowing grandparents to be with the children for several hours/a day or an overnight (periodically) as a time of connection.
Handling Parenting with Illness / School Closings
“Mommy/Daddy, I don’t feel well.” It’s hard to start the morning with an urgent change in schedule. Who’s responsible? The parenting plan can help with these situations if it states:
- The parent who wakes up with the child(ren) is accountable for figuring out supervision and medical care.
- If the child’s day (at school, child care, or activity) is interrupted by illness or school closings, the parent in whose the home the child(ren) will sleep that night is accountable to manage the unscheduled circumstance.
Tips for Unscheduled Changes/Events
- Each parent expects to be alerted when a child is ill or hurt, stays home from school, or has a temperature, or if the doctor has been called. Notify each other regardless of who is actually handling the child(ren)’s care.
- Many parents call the other during these unexpected circumstances and negotiate a schedule that works for both parties.
- If multiple days are needed because of illness, parents generally alternate care.
- Unless children are unusually ill, the regular parenting schedule can generally continue while the child is sick.
Child Health and Well-Being
Nothing feels better to an ill child than a hug and a snuggle from both parents. It also reassures both parents about the child’s situation.
Typically, the parenting plan states that when a child is ill, each parent will be able to visit the child in the home of either parent, for a reasonable time (usually an hour or two), regardless of the parenting schedule, at mutually agreed-upon times.
In the heart-wrenching moments that a child is hospitalized, both parents can be at the hospital at any time, regardless of the established parenting schedule.
In an emergency, the parent who is on-site and available to medical personnel will make appropriate decisions and contact the other parent as soon as possible.
Transporting Children from One Parent’s Home to the Other’s
It’s important to be clear about how children are transported from one parent’s home to the other. It’s common that the parent scheduled to be with the child(ren) following school, daycare, or other activities is the one who picks them up afterwards.
When transitions occur from one parent’s house, it seems to work best that the parent who has the children takes them to the other parent’s home. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it avoids making the other parent wait (impatiently) at your home while the kids get ready. It can avoid creating conflict and tension.
Tips for Transportation
- Avoid discussing logistics and schedules during transitions.
- Say something flattering or delightful about the children to the other parent when he/she arrives to pick them up or drop them off. Allow the other parent in your home (avoid making him/her a “porch parent“) to greet the children.
- If the distance between homes is longer than usual, work out a meeting place midway in-between.
Handling Childen’s Extracurricular Activities
Most parenting plans are clear that the child(ren) may participate in extracurricular activities and that each parent will support the transportation needs of the child. Most importantly, the plan is clear that both parents may attend all third-party functions such as sports, school activities and the like, regardless of the parenting schedule.
Tips for Chidren’s Extracurricular Activities
- As much as possible, both parents should sit together or at least near to each other at these events. It will make your child proud. Also, it means the child doesn’t have to choose which parent to go to first after the event.
- If you are bringing anyone else (friend, date, etc.) to the child’s activity, be courteous and let the other parent know in advance. Don’t surprise them.
Parenting Time: Use it or Lose It
Parents are well-intentioned. They often assert that they will be flexible concerning switching weekends or days to accommodate the other’s schedule. This is a generous offer, yet doing so can wreak havoc with the parenting schedule.
If the parents have an every-other-weekend schedule, for example, A-B-A-B, and they switch, then the schedule becomes B-A-A-B, creating a two-week gap for Parent B. It works best for the children to keep to the original schedule as much as possible.
Tips for Parenting Time – Use it or Lose It
- Let’s say Parent A has business travel or needs personal time on a weekend. Rather than swap a whole weekend, consider arranging to let Parent A be with your child(ren) for a couple of hours during the weekend.
- In another example, Parent A wants an activity with the children that spans more than one day or a full weekend. It’s better to arrange that during his or her designated vacation days with the children, if at all possible, rather than disrupt Parent B’s normal schedule.
Parenting Plan and Babysitters
Create an understanding regarding who will care for the children when neither parent is available. (This is outside normal child care arrangements while parents work.) While each parent is the decision maker during his/her parenting time, this is an area where “no surprises” really avoids conflict.
Depending upon the ages of the child(ren), parents feel reassured when there is a mutual list of sitters. If a new sitter is coming into the picture, a courtesy call about it to the other parent is a good gesture.
As children age, it’s important to be clear when the children are able to be by themselves for a period of time and when an older sibling is able to care for younger siblings.
Cell Phones and Landlines
When parents go from one home to two homes, cost savings is a critical issue. As part of cutting costs, parents often choose to get rid of the landline and rely on cell phones only.
STOP before you make that choice.
Depending upon the age of your children, this can be a safety issue. Now that each of you is the only adult in your own home, the children need to know where the phone is at all times and how to call 911. If the cell phone is in your car or under the couch it won’t be found. If a babysitter doesn’t have a cell phone or forgets his or hers at home, how will you stay in touch? Generally, parents agree that a landline is a safety expense until the youngest child reaches is about 8 or 9.
Parenting Plan Resources
Photo credit: (c) Can Stock Photo / monkeybusiness
This blog and its materials have been prepared by BJ Mediation Services for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal or financial advice. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.