Divorce is inevitably difficult. It isn’t easy to extricate your life from the person with whom you planned to spend all your days. If you have children with your spouse, however, that process can be monumentally more challenging.
Not only are you processing the end of your marriage, but you are likely trying to help your children understand and cope with an irrevocable shift in their lives. On top of everything, there are countless decisions to make that will have long-term impacts on the way your family functions.
It can be difficult to keep track of it all, much less to feel confidence that you’re making all the right decisions. An experienced and compassionate divorce attorney can offer you personalized advice and help ensure you are considering not just present but future needs, as well.
Many divorcing couples find that tensions arise when negotiating the financial divorce settlement, but the parenting agreement can be just as trying for parents trying to figure out how to move forward for their children in the best way possible. In this blog, we’ll discuss 5 things to include when putting together a parenting plan with your soon-to-be ex-spouse:
#1. No Negative Comments
Even the most amicable divorces happened for a reason, so it’s understandable that many divorced individuals find it difficult to navigate friendly relationships with their ex-spouse. It is absolutely critical, however, that whatever issues you have with your ex (and vice versa) are kept between you and them.
You should never badmouth your child’s other parent to your child, and you should be able to trust that your ex will likewise never speak poorly of you to your child. To do so is not only unfair to that parent, but may be harmful to your child. If you need to vent about your ex to someone, vent to a friend or a therapist – but never your child.
A pattern of this kind of behavior is legally referred to as parental alienation and judges take a dim view of such behavior, as it is widely understood to be a form of abuse that is psychologically harmful to children. If you are concerned that your ex is engaging in parental alienation, it is critical that you seek out the assistance of a reputable family law attorney who can help you gather evidence and protect you and your child from any further harm.
You should also include a clause in your parenting agreement that attests to a mutual agreement that neither parent will do anything that might estrange, discredit, or otherwise diminish the child’s relationship with their other parent.
#2. Right of First Refusal
If your former spouse goes out for an evening or leaves town on a business trip, you may object to your children being left with a sitter or your ex’s new partner when you could – and might want to – take care of them. It’s best to avoid future conflicts by deciding whether or not you’d like to offer each other right of first refusal when childcare is needed.
This means you would be obliged to first ask the other parent if they’d like to take care of your child if you end up needing childcare during your scheduled time with your child, and vice versa. If the other parent refuses the offer, you’d then look elsewhere for childcare arrangements.
Including a provision agreeing to right of first refusal in your parenting plan allows parents to have more time with their child outside of their typically scheduled parenting time.
#3. Everyday Parenting Expenses
As if keeping track of your children’s belongings isn’t hard enough as it is, the inevitable shuffling between two homes post-divorce can make this task a herculean one. Jackets, mittens, socks, binkies, toys, and school supplies can all seemingly disappear into the other parents’ home, never to be seen again.
You and your ex might agree to trade your child’s belongings back and forth as needed. Alternatively, you might allow the child to decide where to keep their things. To keep the arguments over these quotidian but necessary items to a minimum, it’s best to agree up front how to pay for everyday parenting expenses, including:
- Toys and books
- School supplies
- Educational incidentals (e.g., field trips)
- Teacher gifts
Nowadays, apps abound to help co-parents keep track of and split expenses, but even a traditional spreadsheet will do. The important thing is to agree on a system and stick to it.
#4. Extracurricular Activities
Extracurricular activities can become a source of unexpected conflict between divorced parents. Especially if you’re children are still young, it may be impossible to determine ahead of time which extracurriculars you will agree to sign them up for. Instead, you might try to agree about how you will come to future decisions about extracurriculars.
Questions you might try to answer could include:
- Will you consult each other about sign-ups? Or will one parent be in charge of signing them up for extracurriculars?
- How will you share the expense of extracurriculars, which can be significant?
- Who will transport them to extracurriculars?
- Will you both attend games and recitals? Or will you agree to switch off?
- Will you sign-up your child for camps and other summer activities?
- How will you share the cost and driving responsibilities of summer activities?
#5. Holidays and Vacations
Most parents who are committed to co-parenting are focused on negotiating a weekly parenting schedule that works for their family. Come your first holiday season or summer vacation, however, and you will wish you had spent more time carefully considering how to split holidays and vacation time.
However, it’s also important to keep in mind that as you settle into your respective new lives, your feelings and desires might evolve. Especially if your split is amicable, it may still be possible to work out adjustments later on, but your parenting plan can lay the groundwork for the future and help you establish common ground.
Some parents agree to alternating years for holidays. Others agree to split them. You may choose to split holidays mid-day. For some parents, it may even be possible to share certain important days – you may want to invite your ex over for Christmas morning or agree to take your child out to dinner on their birthday together.
In addition to the major holidays and your children’s birthdays, you may also want to consider minor holidays and major family events. For instance, if your child typically spends every other weekend with their other parent, what will happen if Mother’s Day or Father’s Day falls on one of those weekends? How about your mother’s birthday or your brother’s future wedding?
Finally, it may be wise to plan ahead for extended school breaks. A few issues you might consider include:
- Will you deviate from the typical schedule during school breaks and how?
- Will you allow for making up “missed” parenting time?
- Will you each agree to allow the other to travel with your child out of state or out of the country on trips?
- How far in advance do trips need to be planned and communicated?
How Percy Law Group, PC Can Help
At Percy Law Group, PC, we know how difficult it can be to negotiate all of these and other issues that might need to be part of your parenting agreement with your ex. We are committed to providing our clients with compassionate and supportive legal advice as they make their way through this momentous life transition.
If you are considering a divorce or need help drafting a parenting agreement, reach out to us online or call us at (508) 206-9900 to schedule a consultation.