Two Ways of Thinking About a Parenting Plan
There are different ways to think about a “Parenting Plan.” One way to think about a Parenting Plan is as a legal document—a court order that states where children live at different times, who legally makes decisions and similar legal matters. A different way to think about a Parenting Plan is to create a structure and roadmap for effective post-divorce co-parenting, anticipating normal challenges and changes. A court order, by itself, is unlikely to provide the foundation or structure for successful co-parenting after divorce.
If you live in the Seattle or King County area and would like advice on creating a parenting plan that meets the needs of your children, please contact Seattle divorce mediator Mark Weiss at (206) 622-6707.
Preparing the legal document that becomes the court order that is the Parenting Plan can be prepared by your lawyer. Only you and your partner, however, can create a real plan that gives you the structure for effective post-divorce co-parenting. Doing so is well worth it. It sets the stage so you and your ex- can work successfully together as partners in raising your children. Parents who do this successfully know what to expect from each other, can maintain a balance between predictability and flexibility in parenting, adapts to changing family needs, and avoid common mistakes unique to the challenges of parenting across separate households. They create something akin to a “business partnership” in the “business” of co-parenting their children.
Collaborative Divorce and Mediation both can help you create a true plan for parenting rather than just a court order.
How Is a Parenting Plan Created in Mediation?
In a mediated divorce, court involvement is limited to approving the agreements you reached together in private. Mark regularly helps clients create good Parenting Plans that are unique for their family. If your family has special needs children, or needs additional input from co-parenting experts, specialists are available to assist you by providing any additional information and structure to craft a Parenting Plan plan that addresses the needs of your family and that supports healthy co-parenting.
Some of what you might consider in the plan might include–
- Historical and future desired parental roles and patterns
- Practical circumstances of each parent, such as work schedules and the unique strengths of each parent
- The moral values and culture of each parent
- Communication styles of each parent
- The children’s physical and emotional needs
- The children’s preferences
- The children’s life stages, activities, and schedule—including the inevitable changes that can be expected
- How to deal with changes
- Where will parenting be similar, and where will it be different, in each household
- How do parents act best to ensure their children feel secure
- How to introduce and work with new romantic partners
- Extended family and other relationships
- Anything else that could bear on parenting
How Does Parental Conflict Affect Children?
Studies show that children of divorce have a 10-15% higher likelihood of serious psychological and social problems compared to children in married families, strongly correlated to conflict between parents. In other words, kids who are exposed to conflict suffer. The problems seen include increased risk of emotional disturbance and depression, poorer scholastic performance, drug and alcohol use, and promiscuity. The primary risk factors are (1) stress from the divorce process, (2) continuing parental conflict, (3) diminished parenting after separation and divorce, (4) loss of important relationships, (5) remarriage and re-partnering, and (6) reduced economic opportunities. Research shows that involvement of both parents in parenting after the divorce is protective for the children. The most important thing parents can do to help their children be successful after the divorce is to simply stop fighting and to resolve their conflicts.
If you live in the Seattle or King County area and would like advice on creating a parenting plan that meets the needs of your children, please contact Seattle divorce mediator and Collaborative attorney Mark Weiss at (206) 622-6707.
Accordingly, it is best to choose the divorce process that is most likely to reduce parental conflict. Mediation and Collaborative Divorce are processes designed solely to help divorcing people reach agreement. Conventional legal representation is based on a “win-lose” model—each person fights to win (or to not lose). The conventional legal model is designed mostly to have judges pick who wins and who loses, and not designed to help people build a healthy post-divorce co-parenting relationship together.
The “Legal” Parenting Plan
The legal Parenting Plan (a court order) is required in every divorce and legal separation with children who are not emancipated. Washington law presumes that both parents will continue to play a major part in the lives of their children and that each parent should maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the children. The policy of the State is:
Parents have the responsibility to make decisions and perform other parental functions necessary for the care and growth of their minor children.… [T]he best interests of the child shall be the standard by which the court determines and allocates the parties’ parental responsibilities.… The best interests of the child are served by a parenting arrangement that best maintains a child’s emotional growth, health and stability, and physical care. Further, the best interest of the child is ordinarily served when the existing pattern of interaction between a parent and child is altered only to the extent necessitated by the changed relationship of the parents or as required to protect the child from physical, mental, or emotional harm.
Parenting plans typically include detailed school, vacation, and holiday schedules, and an allocation of decision-making authority about certain major decisions, and a dispute resolution process. Optionally, they can include planning for expected change and include methods so both parents can effectively work together to co-parent their children in new households.
Wishes of the Child
Many people incorrectly believe a child can decide where to live once s/he turns a certain age. In Washington, that’s not so. A minor child does not have the legal right to decide with whom to live. (The sole exception is when the minor has been legally emancipated.)
In mediation, the children’s wishes and views are often part of the considerations of parents. Most parents recognize that their children are affected by divorce, and getting the input from a child (not as the decision-maker, but to inform good parental decisions) can be helpful in creating a Parenting Plan so their child to prosper. The input should be obtained through a professional, such as a neutral child specialist, so the child does not feel like s/he has to take sides.
What if a Parent Has Problems?
There are times when the presumption of parental involvement runs contrary to the best interests of the children. Examples include substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and other problems. When those types of problems exist, parenting plans can only do what sub-optimal circumstances allow. Typically, when assessing these situations there are three points of focus: (1) the nature of the problem of the parent, (2) the actual or likely impact on the child, and (3) the impact on the other other parent. Whenever possible, your mediator or Collaborative divorce lawyer will be able to assist you in reaching a Parenting Plan that takes into account the situation.
Parenting plans remain modifiable – at least until the child reaches the age of majority. In divorce court, there is a strong presumption against modification. In Collaborative divorces, so long as both parents are agreeable, it is possible to include into the Parenting Plan flexibility and pre-planning in parenting arrangements to meet the normal and expectable changing needs of families while minimizing future court involvement.
In 2000, the Legislature passed a relocation statute that provides for detailed notice requirements if a parent proposes to move with a child. The statute mandates that an objecting party must file a court proceeding to prevent the relocation. If notice is not properly provided, the relocating parent can be ordered back. The legal requirements are technical. If you are or the other parent is contemplating moving, you and the other parent should seek the advice of a competent divorce lawyer. Like all other aspects of divorce, relocations can be addressed through the Collaborative family law process or mediation.
If you live in the Seattle or King County area and would like advice on creating a parenting plan that meets the needs of your children, please contact Seattle mediator and Collaborative attorney Mark Weiss at (206) 622-6707.
There are several very useful online resources for parents. Here are some of our favorites: