Yesterday, we looked at the first three important considerations for creating a parenting plan, and we covered a few of the benefits to having an effective and flexible parenting plan in place prior to your divorce or custody case ending.
Many times, clients are just so anxious to “be done” with their former relationship they fail to see the need to work through so many “what ifs”, but we try to emphasize that a good parenting plan should be thought of as an essential road map.
It is doubtful you would venture off on an adventurous hiking trail without some sort of map, GPS device, or some form of guidance, right? The same goes for venturing down the road of parenting a child following a divorce or break-up. Both parents need to be following the same map or the child will be the one who gets lost along the way. So let's take a look at the final three important considerations when creating a parenting plan:
1. Special Physical or Emotional Needs of the Child: Some studies have estimated that as many as 33% of the children in the United States suffer from some form of special physical or emotional need. Taking that statistic along with the current divorce rate in the United State, it's easy to see that many parents who choose to separate will have to adjust their parenting plans to accommodate their child's special needs in two homes, rather than just one. Both parents should consider things such as: Which parent lives closest to the medical or care facility most often used by the child? Which parents' insurance plan should the child be covered under to offer the best coverage and best care for the child? If both parents are not able to attend doctor appointments or therapy appointments with the child, how will the information from these appointments be communicated to both homes so the child's care does not suffer? How will prescription medicine be transferred between the homes? How will the parents communicate when medical emergencies arise? Will visitation be affected when medical emergencies interrupt normal routines and if so, how and when will visitation be made up? While it is nearly impossible to cover every “what if” when it comes to certain conditions, considering how you will handle situations which have already occurred or can be reasonably expected in the future is a good starting place.
2. Academic Needs of the Child: Many times, one parent will be “in district” for a school that both parents believe is more suitable for the child to attend. If so, this should be taken into consideration when crafting the child's schedule between the homes, especially if one parent lives further away from the school and is not willing or able to move into the school district. However, even when both parents live in the same district, one home may be more conducive to following through with educational requirements such as homework, projects, and the like. If this is the case, the parents should be honest with themselves and each other about their commitment to helping the child in these areas and allow the child's schedule to reflect those commitments. This may be another area that could change over time as the parents' job obligations change or as the child's levels of academic work change.
3. Social Needs of the Child: Often it is easy for parents and attorneys to forget the child is actually a person who has friends and (at times) a social calendar, limited though it may be. Being socially connected to the world is an important part of growing up and moving down the path of success in life, therefore this is a very valid need for the child and should not be overlooked by the parents when determining the best parenting plan. Parents should try to make sure that the child's schedule is not so rigid that it never allows time for the child to spend time with friends, accept invitations to parties or sleepovers, or just “hang out” with their friends on the weekends or after school. If the child begins to feel strapped down by a strict, unwavering schedule completely dominated by time with his parents with no time for himself, he will surely grow to resent both the schedule and his parents. His resulting defiance to anything under the plan will likely undermine its effectiveness quicker than anything else. Therefore, be sure to build in “down time” for the child, as well as, provisions which allow for the child's activities once he or she is old enough to be involved socially with others outside of the immediate family.
These six considerations are certainly not all-inclusive, but they are areas that should be considered in every parenting plan in order to achieve a workable and effective plan that will grow with your child.