A Parenting Plan that Works for You and Your Children


A good, solid, workable parenting plan is worth it's weight in gold. Think of it as a roadmap that will get you off of those confusing unmarked back roads of parenting after divorce and return you to the easy-to-navigate super highway that gets you exactly where you want to go. Sounds nice doesn't it? Having a workable, effective plan is more than nice, it's a necessity for success.

Many Parents have only a Bare Bones Parenting Plan

Before I describe the benefits of having an effective parenting plan, let me describe what happens when you don't have one, or have only a bare bones excuse for a plan. Your children pay the price.

  • They end up missing out on time with one parent or the other

  • They miss out on time with their friends or participating in activities

  • They may not receive timely or adequate medical care

  • They may not receive important psychological care

  • They lose touch with grandparents and other extended family

  • They feel frustrated, sad, disappointed, and angry much of the time because their lives aren't working very well

  • They resent their parents for getting divorced in the first place or for putting them in the middle of parental disagreements or power struggles

It's not a pretty picture! And yet, it's one that I often see among my clients. Why? There are a number of reasons that parents end up with only a minimal or ineffective parenting plan. Chief among them is that parents are trying to think through how they are going to parent their children after divorce during one of the most stressful, emotion-filled times of their lives. It is an overwhelming, daunting task for even the best of parents.

Many attorneys are well informed and helpful and the divorcing couple is able to craft a good, workable plan. Unfortunately though, there are attorneys who don't have a very good handle on how to think through the numerous details involved in creating a parenting agreement that works. The families they represent don't do as well.

And many families don't ever work with an attorney or mediator, but rather represent themselves in do-it-yourself-divorces. It is pure luck as to whether they are able to design an effective, comprehensive parenting plan.

Benefits of a Well-Designed Parenting Plan

Earlier I said that having a well-designed plan is worth it's weight in gold to parents. I mean that. When the day-to-day decisions of your life as a parent are planned for and running like clockwork, children and adults alike can breathe easy. When you know how you are going to handle special events, holidays, vacations, medical care etc. your brain and your blood pressure are going to thank you. Of course there will always be some event that hasn't been planned for - just to keep you on your toes! After all we are talking about human families here. But generally, your life and the lives of your children will go much more smoothly.

Here are just a few of the many benefits of having a good parenting plan:

  • Peace of mind for adults and children

  • Less stress

  • You put a safety net under your children so they don't fall through the cracks

  • You are able to focus on parenting your children when they are with you rather than fighting with the other parent

  • You and your children have a schedule that provides emotional safety and routine

  • You are able to make plans for the times when you have your children with you and when they are with the other parent

  • You are able to avoid going back to court to solve parenting disputes

What Goes Into an Effective Plan?

Remember this about your parenting plan: one size does not fit all. The plan you and your child's other parent develop will be as unique as each of the individuals in your divorced family. The ideal plan will take into consideration all of your family members' needs - especially your children's needs. Try to see this experience through your children's eyes. It will likely be quite different from yours.

Essential Elements

  • A clear, well defined schedule including provisions for holidays, vacations, school vacations etc.

  • Outline of who is responsible for making decisions and how those decisions are made if both parents are responsible.

  • A plan for who provides transportation to the other parent's home and to extracurricular events etc.

  • A plan for financial responsibilities for each parent.

  • A plan for specific parenting responsibilities (e.g. who stays home when a child is sick; who goes on school field trips and other events; who helps with homework; who takes kids to medical and dental appointments etc.)

  • A forum for managing disagreements when they arise.

  • A system for sharing information.

  • A timetable to evaluate and change the parenting plan if needed.

Down to the Nitty Gritty!

There are several methods to use to arrive at your perfect parenting plan. You'll have to decide which one works best for you and your co-parent. Start by checking out the basic parenting plan worksheet. You may also want to invest in a template that walks you step by step through the process. There are some excellent templates available. Two of my favorites are "Creating a Successful Parenting Plan" by Dr. Jayne Major, and "Developing an Effective Parenting Plan e-course" by Dr. Reena Sommer.

You also may want to have a look at some of these sample guidelines developed by family researchers as you work on crafting your parenting plan. Dr. Joan Kelly, Dr. Phil Stahl, and Dr. Robert Emery have all made significant contributions to the what we know about successful parenting plans.

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