At the end of the 20th century, 43% to 46% of marriages in the US were predicted to end in dissolution, according to the Journal of Marriage and Family. Divorces are hard in any circumstance, but when there are children involved things become increasingly more complicated. It’s important that parents attempt to put their differences aside to create an effective parenting plan, or custody agreement, that will provide structure and stability to help children adjust more easily during this period of change. Here are five tips for creating efficient and thorough parenting plans.
Establish the Type of Parenting Plan
Your parenting time schedule must comply with your state custody guidelines in order to be accepted by the court. Joint physical custody, also known as shared physical custody, means that both parents are equally responsible for the physical care of the child(ren), and have substantial and frequent living time with the child(ren).
For joint or shared custody situations, optional parenting time schedules can include:
- 50/50 schedules: Child(ren) divide time equally between both parents
- 60/40 schedules: Allows child(ren) to spend significant time with both parents
For sole custody situations, optional parenting time schedules can include:
- 70/30 Schedules: Allows child(ren) to have one consistent home base
- 80/20 Schedules: Appropriate when parents live far apart from each other
One thing to keep in mind while developing a schedule is the age of the child. Mental health practitioners generally recommend that toddlers and preschool-age children benefit from more frequent transitions, such as a 2-2-3 plan, in which the children live with one parent for two days, the other parent for the next two days and then the first parent for the following three days.
Set Clear Guidelines and Expectations
Your parent plan will need to specify legal custody, which defines who makes important decisions about the children, such as medical, dental and emergency care. Options for legal custody include:
- Joint legal custody: Parents have joint legal custody of the minor children
- Sole legal custody: One parent has sole legal custody of the minor children
Parenting plans need to contain enough detail so that they’re easy to understand and enforce, according to the Judicial Council of California. Families can avoid repeated trips back to court for post-divorce litigation and mediation by avoiding common errors and oversights:
- General Wording: Instead of “liberal and frequent visitation,” specify schedule in thorough detail
- Residential moves: Cover restrictions or permissions dealing with custodial parent moving
- Travel rules: Clarify domestic and international travel guidelines
- Right of First Refusal: Specifies that one parent must give the other parent the option to spend time with the child(ren) before using services of daycare, sitter or relative
- Third party time: Detail the time that the child(ren) will spend away from either parent, including daycare, school, relative to determine how much parenting time each parent really has.
Establish How Plans Can Be Revised in Future
While the goal of the parent plan is to account for as much of the future as possible, there may be times when unexpected situations occur. Including stipulations on how to revise plans will help parents to easily deal with these issues in the future, such as:
- Process for reviewing the plan and making revisions
- Information about how a parent can suggest changes to plan
- Way for the parents to resolve disagreements about revisions to the plan
Maintain Positive Communication
How parents talk to each other in front of their child(ren) and about each other to their child(ren) is important. In order to establish a healthy co-parenting relationship, experts advise parents to develop a collaborative and cooperative business-type relationship with their previous partners. Suggestions for maintaining positive communication include:
- Agreeing on time and place to talk (in person or by phone) that works for both parents
- Attempting to solve problems when parents are not in the presence of the child(ren)
- Separating parenting discussions from other issues
- Agreeing that either parent can end a conversation if it’s too negative
- Meeting in public places to discuss issues or to exchange their child(ren)
- Establishing pick up/drop off schedules that do not entail seeing each other. Example: one parent drops child(ren) off at school and the other picks the child(ren) up
If parents struggle to communicate in a civil manner, a single form of online communication may be effective to help parents communicate more clearly and frequently.
Be Prepared If Alcohol Use Disorder is Involved
Of the addictive substances in the United States, alcohol is the most commonly used with 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, struggling with alcohol abuse or dependence, according to the National Council on Alcholism and Drug Dependence. Frequently an issue in divorce matters, alcohol abuse merits added specifications in parenting plans.
The Courts generally acknowledge that children benefit from consistent time with both of their parents, as long as it is in the best interest of the child. Parenting plans should be drafted with the goal of allowing the parent experiencing Alcohol Use Disorder to have the opportunity to maintain or build a meaningful relationship with the child(ren), without compromising the child(ren)’s health and safety. This can be achieved by:
- Hiring a professional parenting coordinator, who facilitates parenting time
- Parenting coordinators work with parents to establish consistent rules and routines for the families during and after divorce and can act as a neutral third party who can give an unbiased assessment of the situation in regard to child safety. An agreement may also be included in the plan to allow the parenting coordinator to change visitation agreements to avoid unsafe circumstances.
- Seeking counseling services and a treatment program for the parent abusing alcohol
- Professionals can complete an independent assessment of the parent’s alcohol use and determine a treatment plan for the parent. Parenting plans may be negotiated to require the parent to adhere to the treatment plan in order to maintain visitation with the child(ren).
- Adding a provision plan that allows for alcohol monitoring
- A remote alcohol testing device, like Soberlink, provides accountability for the parent experiencing Alcohol Use Disorder. Soberlink offers two different testing programs designed to fit each unique situation. The first program, Level 1 – Parenting Time only, allows the monitored parent to prove that there is no drinking involved while the parent is spending time with the child(ren). The other program, Level 2 – Daily Testing, is for more high-risk situations, allowing the monitored parent to test 7 days a week with a set schedule that is managed by the Soberlink system. Depending on the unique family situation, Soberlink’s Level 1 or Level 2 program can be arranged for the parent to take a test multiple times a day to create a documented record of sobriety, which is sent to concerned parties, promoting child safety.
Establishing an organized parenting plan is an important part of the divorce process. Parents who cannot agree on a parenting plan amongst themselves risk having a judge make the demands based on the best interests of the child(ren) without knowing each family’s situation, child(ren) and parents.
About the Author
Soberlink supports accountability for sobriety through a comprehensive alcohol monitoring system. Combining a breathalyzer with wireless connectivity, the portable design and technology includes facial recognition, tamper detection and real-time reporting. Soberlink proves sobriety with reliability to foster trust and peace of mind.