A “parenting plan” is a document that specifies how family time will be arranged, information will be shared, and responsibilities will be met in the aftermath of the parents’ separation.
In most families, there is a more-or-less regular “division of labour” with respect to looking after the children and getting them to their extra-curricular activities, and there is also likely to be some standard way in which important decisions regarding the children are made. When parents divorce the sharing of responsibilities continues, but often things get a bit more complicated. Likely, the children will be spending time in two different households. How exactly will that work? Finances will be affected. There may not be enough extra money for the kids to take piano lessons and also to continue with tai kwon do. Choices will have to be made. Maybe one parent has stayed home and has had most of the responsibility for getting the kids to their after-school activities. If that parent plans on going back to work different arrangements may be necessary. Ideally, parents work together, perhaps with the help of a mediator, to negotiate the details of the plan.
How detailed should the plan be? On the principle that those who want to disagree will find something to disagree about, the greater the potential for conflict between the parents, the more detailed the plan should be. Some parents will be fine with a plan that says, “Billy will spend Tuesday evening and overnight with his father” and let the details sort themselves out. Other parents will need (or will simply prefer) to have a plan that states, “Billy’s father will pick him up from school on Tuesday afternoon and take him to hockey practice. Billy will sleep over at his father’s place, and his father will return him to school on Wednesday morning.”
There are many reasons to get a parenting plan in place – even a temporary one – as soon as possible after parents separate. Having a plan cuts down on uncertainly and on stress for everyone. Most importantly, having a plan provides security and stability for children. (And as most parents will tell you, they aren’t happy if their children are unhappy.) Children need to know that someone will be there to take them to hockey practice and ballet lessons even if mom and dad aren’t living together anymore. It is important to them that both parents continue to take an interest in their schooling and follow their progress. They also need to be reassured that they won’t lose touch with extended family members who have been important in their lives so far. Most importantly, negotiating a parenting plan means that decisions can be made calmly, in a considered manner, rather than “on the fly.” The more the details are spelled out and agreed upon beforehand, the less potential there is for conflict later on. And protecting children from having to witness parental conflict can only be good.