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What you need to know about parenting plans

Many people continue to have good relationships with their ex-spouses, and may wonder why they need to craft a parenting plan that takes into account every last detail of their children's lives. It may seem like too much paperwork, for some. But until you create a well-thought-out parenting plan with your ex, you won't truly be putting your children first.

If you are sharing custody, a parenting plan is required by law; in other situations, a plan is allowed, rather than required. By establishing one, you and your ex will be creating a secure blueprint for the future and avoiding all kinds of parenting disputes that could affect your child. 

Here's what a parenting plan must cover:

  1. Where your child will be throughout the year: the daily and weekly custody schedule in detail, including holidays, birthdays, vacations, etc.
  2. How you will handle disagreements between the two of you, should they occur. As well as you get along now, that may not always be the case, especially if one or both of you find new partners and/or become remarried. Arbitration, mediation and counseling are all possible routes to take, but you'll have to agree on one.
  3. Who is allowed to make important decisions for the child on issues like personal healthcare, religious faith and future schools or education.
  4. What will happen if one parent wants or needs to move and how that will affect the schedule as well as who will pay a child's travel costs if this move happens.

Who files the parenting plan?

Parents can prepare a parenting plan together, or separately (if just one parent files, the other has a chance to respond). In both cases it makes sense to find a lawyer who can help you negotiate the best terms-as well as keep the two of you on good speaking terms-while you get some important things set in writing. You'll find that fewer issues crop up once everyone knows the score. The kids will have a lot more certainty in their lives, which will help decrease anxiety.

What happens if the plan goes awry?

Once the plan has been approved by the court, you are bound to follow it. If you don't, you can be held in contempt. If your ex stops following the parenting plan, don't assume it's pointless for you to continue. By law, you have to stick with it regardless of your ex's behavior. (It's like you may have told your children together: Two wrongs don't make a right.)

This may sound like a lot of work, and perhaps you'll get into disagreements about a few items in the plan--but better now than later, in front of your children. You'll make your co-parenting relationship even stronger than it already is.

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