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A family law blog about tying and untying knots and other common threads


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Parenting plans: for everyone

Posted January 2010. Filed under Children, Parenting

Many people think parenting plans only make sense for shared parenting, where both parents retain custodial rights to children– not just one parent who is designated residential parent and legal custodian. In those cases, the Ohio Revised Code requires a written shared parenting plan to spell out all the details of how parents will work together to raise their children.

But what about when only one parent has custodial rights? Technically, that means the other parent has only residual parental rights that come into play if something happens to the custodial parent. Typically, the non-custodial parent simply gets a schedule of parenting time (visitation). In theory, the custodial parent makes all the decisions.

So why bother with a parenting plan?

Because real life is not very neat. A child may have health issues or special needs that require both parents to agree on how they will conduct certain aspects of childrearing. A non-custodial parent may feel that his or her legitimate interests in children’s wellbeing are simply ignored, that they’ve lost the right to have an opinion. That can lead to arguments, strife and court. Not to mention the decidedly negative impact on children.

The fact is, a parenting plan anticipates and solves many problems no matter what the custodial arrangement. Here are four positive things a parenting plan will do:

SPELL IT OUT. Does a child have a special diet that both parents need to follow? Do both parents need to get specialized knowledge or training to deal with a health or developmental matter? A parenting agreement spells out important things each parent must do for their child’s wellbeing. Does it actually make sense for both parents to participate in crucial medical decisions and emergency situations? Think about it and set  it out in the plan.

ANTICIPATE ISSUES. Here’s an example—Custodial parent: ‘I won’t allow him to spend too much time with my ex’s family during visitation.’ Other parent: ‘You can’t tell me what to do when he’s with me.’ A parenting agreement brings this issue out from the start and lets parents air their viewpoints, consider what their child wants, agree on something fair, and put it in writing.

BE CLEAR. In the example above, exactly what is ‘too much time?’ An hour? A day? Or how about—‘He calls our daughter too often when she’s home with me.’ What’s too often? Three times a day? Twice a week? Or—‘She showed up at her teacher conference. That’s what I do.’ Again, the process of making the agreement puts a finger on possible grey areas, so the parties can clarify them and reach agreement.

AVOID COURT. That’s not a 100 percent guarantee. But spelling things out, facing the issues and clarifying the fuzzy areas at the outset goes a long way to reducing the likelihood of having to resort to the expense and stress of court. Many parenting agreements, by the way, specify how parties will resolve disputes—through mediation, for instance, another way to avoid costly court battles.

A parenting plan doesn’t have to spell out every last thing in detail. But the process of creating the plan makes you think about what you assume and why (and the same for your ex). It helps you sort out what’s important and what’s not, what level of participation really is fair for both parties. And it keeps the focus on the best way to get to what’s good for your children when you do disagree. That’s especially important for pre-school kids, as developmental psychologist Jean Mercer writes.

Parenting agreements prepare you both to make a challenging transition a little smoother for you and the kids you love.

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