One of the most important decisions you and your spouse or partner will undertake during your separation or divorce will be to create a parenting plan that will work for your children and for both of you. The primary goal of any parenting plan is to foster the well- being of the children and to encourage the continued loving and emotional support from both parents. In mediation or the collaborative divorce process, we will help you create a parenting plan that will meet the particular and unique needs of your family.
The first thing you need to discuss and decide is whether one spouse or partner will have the children more than half of the time during the year. This is called “primary residential custody” and it typically occurs when one parent has the child or children the majority of the time, particularly during the week. Another option is when the parents have “shared custody”, which means that each of you will have the children half the time. This could mean that you split equally each week or rotate the weeks that the children will spend with each parent. In mediation, we discuss how weekdays, weekends, and holiday and vacation time will be shared.
Factors to consider when creating a parenting plan
Once you have decided on the custody arrangement, the next step is to review you respective work schedules if both of you are working. For example, if one parent needs to get to work very early in the morning, and the other parent does not, the parent who starts work later can be responsible for getting them to school in the morning, while the other parent can be responsible for picking them up from school in the afternoon. Some parents, especially police and firefighters, may have rotating shifts. In such cases, a schedule can be created so that the parent has the children on their days off.
The next step is to review your children’s school schedule and their extracurricular activities. The goal is to have the children spend quality time with each parent, so that each parent can attend to the child’s emotional and physical needs. Usually both parents, regardless of the parenting schedule will agree to attend extracurricular events at the same time so as to both have the ability to share in the important events in the life of their children. If both parents are living in homes that can accommodate the children comfortably and safely, sleepovers and time spent at each home is common. If, however, one parent has stayed in the marital residence and the other parent is renting a room or small apartment, it may be agreed that the parenting time will be outside of the home or at the home of another relative such as a grandparent. Many options are available to discuss and consider with the help of a well-trained and experienced mediator or collaborative professional.
Distance between parents’ homes
If parents live close together, it will likely be easier to for each parent to share responsibility to get the children to school and to other activities. If the parents do not live near each other, an arrangement where one parent sees the children after they get home from work a few evenings each week and then have the children for sleepovers on some weekends may work best. In mediation various options are discussed. Sometimes parents try a schedule for a brief period of time to see if it is a good fit for all members of the family.
If one parent moves far away from the other, regular weekly visits may not be possible. If this is your situation, you may want to work out a plan for your child to spend an extended period with the other parent during school breaks during the school year and during the summer months.
Children’s ages and emotional needs
Parenting plans may change over time as your children grow and change. A younger child may do better spending a lot of time with each parent, and to have a more set schedule so as to have more clear expectations. If you have an anxious child, working with a therapist may ease the transition to two households. Teenagers are often more independent at this developmental stage and also frequently mostly interested in being with their friends and peers, so sometimes a set schedule is not as necessary and needs to be a bit more flexible.
While your children’s needs are paramount, it is important that a parenting schedule also allow you to have time to tend to your emotional and other needs. If, for example, one parent has the children every weekend, it does not afford that parent time alone to be with friends or to get chores or errands done or to engage in self-care. The parent who never has the children on weekends may feel that they are not in their children’s lives as much as they want to be to create a strong healthy relationship. It’s important to create a parenting plan that provides balance for each parent as well. The transitions that come with divorce are ones that offer challenges to parents in adjustment as well. It is important for parents to consider their own needs as doing so will likely enable each parent to better cope with the stressors that separation or divorce can create.
When deciding who will have the children on which holidays it is helpful to consider family traditions that the children may have gotten accustomed to in their lives and to also try to also create new customs or transitions. For example, the Christmas holiday can be divided into Christmas Eve, Christmas Morning and Christmas Day. One parent’s family may have a big celebration on Christmas Eve and the other parent’s family may celebrate on Christmas Day. If that’s the case, then one parent can take the children for Christmas Eve and the other for Christmas Day. Or if both families celebrate at the same time then you may want to alternate years in which each of you will have them or split the day in some capacity, with one family doing brunch and another doing dinner. Being open to various options can be very helpful to maximize time with the children on the holidays and also to afford the children an opportunity to be with their grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins. Thanksgiving can also be a challenge, which may necessitate alternating Thanksgiving Day and then having the children be with the other parent on Friday of the four day Thanksgiving Holiday. Some families may want to alternate the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving with the Saturday and Sunday of that weekend. Or split the Thursday in some way, such as brunch with one family and dinner with the other. There is no one size fits all schedule. For some parents with extended family living out of town the alternating of the holidays will be a likely outcome due to travel time needed.
For school age children through high school, the children will have off Christmas Week, President’s Week and Spring Break. Some parents will split those weeks, but not interfere with who has them on the particular holiday such as Easter Day or Christmas Day. Other parents will want to take the children on vacation during those weeks and may want to alternate them. Parents also need to consider summer vacations and whether they want to take the children for an uninterrupted week or two during the summer. Holiday weeks and summer weeks can be set up in advance to avoid conflicts and to have each parent be prepared to make their own plans in the event that they don’t have the children on a particular holiday.
It is so important that both parents agree on the best method of communicating regarding the children. This would include any changes to the parenting plan where one parent cannot take the children at their scheduled time. If there are activities that the children are involved in, each parent should know about them in advance. We advise parents to create a monthly schedule at the end of each month for the upcoming month to minimize disruptions to the schedule and conflicts that may occur as a result of last minute changes. There are also parenting plan apps that parents may find useful. Above all, parents need to be flexible and cooperative, recognizing that things come up and changes to the schedule may be necessary. Both parents will likely need adjustments along the way and therefore being agreeable to changes will likely be reciprocated. By working together, you will make it easier on yourselves and your children. Cooperation creates less stress on you and your children and in mediation we do everything to help foster that cooperation and collaboration.
If you should have any further questions about the mediation or collaborative law process, both of which are alternatives to going to court, please contact one of our Long Island divorce mediators or collaborative attorneys online today or call 516-788-7352 to schedule a no-cost consultation.