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Things to Consider When Creating a Co-parenting Plan

Thinking about separation or divorce and you have children? Co-parenting generally starts with drafting a family/parenting plan. (6 min 43 sec read)

Dave Chartier
A single co-parenting dad, a freelance writer and former syndicated dad blogger with work published in USA Today, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.

Thinking about separation or divorce and you have children? Co-parenting generally starts with drafting a family/parenting plan. The thought of this may be daunting considering the number of moving parts and emotions wrapped up in it.

Take a deep breath, we will cover the basics here so you can begin to figure out the best path for you and your children.  

Keep in mind each section of the plan is generally connected with questions the court will need answered to finalize your divorce and/or paternity agreement when pursuing custody, the forms may be a little different from state to state but you will need to be privy to where you and your co-parent land on each topic.

Understanding you both want what is best for your kids, it is important to frame each aspect of the schedule in the best interest of the child, understanding that the child needs a stable, loving and healthy home and relationship (if safe & possible) with both parents (*even separately). Here are some of the topics you will need to address:

  1. Living arrangements and parenting schedules
    • Primary residence for child or children
    • Parenting time schedule (ex. 50/50, 2-2-5-5, 3-4-4-3, etc)
    • Moving away – This is a big topic to discuss as your family restructures
      1. What if one parent proposes to move?
      2. What if one parent proposes to move with the child? How much notice should be given e.g. 30, 45, 60 days? How will notice be given e.g. e-mail, letter?
      3. Will consent of the other parent be required when the move of a child is proposed? How will parenting arrangements be affected?)
    • Childcare and babysitting arrangements
    • Communication strategy for the kid – how and when the child will communicate with acceptable means (phone, Skype, FaceTime, phone, message, etc.) with the other parent when in your care.
    • Changes to the parenting time schedule – we suggest maintaining a shared calendar with coParent to allow visibility of changes in family schedule and provide standard notice for changes and make-up time terms that you both agree with.
    • Child’s belongings – purchasing/replacing clothes and belongings (*remember to include clothes, gear, uniforms and equipment for sports, school and extracurricular) to reduce ‘gray areas’ post-divorce
  2. Vacation, holidays and special days
    • Holiday schedules – it is common for parents to alternate on major holidays and share various vacations (i.e. spring break, summer vacation, etc.) and religious holidays
    • Birthdays and other Big Days (Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Birthdays, Graduations, Family Reunions, et al.)
  3. General Communication Strategy
    • Communication Priorities – What type of information will be communicated – medical information, school information, change of address, telephone numbers, travel plans, etc.
      1. Method of communication – email, text message, phone
      2. Frequency of communication
      3. Emergency communication – between coParents and is there a secondary contact (ex. mutual friend and/or family member)?
  4. Health care
    • Healthcare coverage – who will be providing healthcare and dental coverage for the child or children? Who is covering extra costs? Who will submit/manage claims?
    • Communications plan to discuss;
      1. Routine care is needed (check-ups, vaccinations, teeth cleanings, etc.)
      2. Emergency medical treatment – how will you notify each other
      3. Care of the child if they are ill – provide clarity on who will provide care
    • Access to medical records (How will medical information be accessed or shared?)
    • Arrangements for any special needs of your child – have a plan in place to get consensus when/if the child needs extra care (ex. orthodontic treatment, counseling, physiotherapy, speech therapy, diet, glasses, prescription drugs.)
  5. Children with special needs
    • Communication plan to discuss;
      1. With special needs timing may be everything, agree on methods of communication and acceptable response times
      2. Logistics for treatments, therapies or services needed now as well as in the future. Who will make the arrangements? Which parent will attend and/or participate? Which parent will handle insurance issues?
      3. Decisions about any testing or assessments (Consider assessments for special accommodations in school, psychological or psychoeducational testing. Which parent will attend appointments? How will costs be managed for care, medicine, etc? How will continued care (including diet, therapy, equipment, etc.) and treatment be managed and scheduled?
      4. Decisions about which parent is available if the child requires care.
    • Decisions about who will advocate for the child if parents do not agree on a treatment plan (Some people elect naming a family doctor, a specialist or a counselor)
  6. Education
    • School of Choice – Decisions about any choice or change in school, school program, special educational needs, tutoring etc. (How will these decisions be made?)
    • School Records – How will records, messages and report cards  be shared
    • Attendance at parent-teacher conferences and school events – Who goes? How is important information shared?
    • School Trips – How are these managed, who pays, who signs for them and attends them?
    • School absences – Under what circumstances will your child be removed from school? By whom?
  7. Extra-curricular activities
    • Extra-curricular activities – How many per kid? What type? Who pays? How will transport me managed
  8. Religion
    • Religious upbringing and activities – How many per kid? What type? Who pays? How will transport me managed
  9. Culture
    • Cultural events, education (ex. Language instruction) and activities – How many per kid? What type? Who pays? How will transport me managed
  10. Grandparents and extended family
    • Family visits, reunions, vacations and events – How often and when will visits with extended family take place? Who will be in attendance?
    • Communication (How and when will children communicate with their extended family?
  11. Travel
    • Traveling out of town, state or country – When will notice of travel be expected
    • What type of information is to be shared? Consider flight information as well as contact information for children during time away in case of emergency.)
    • Consider a written consent form when planning travel with minors or create an agreement on the coParenter App using the request feature.
    • Child’s passport – Who will keep the child’s passport? Will each parent have a copy of the passport number?
  12. Making changes to the coParenting time schedule
    • Process for making changes to the parenting schedule or other parts of the parenting plan (Consider a process for reviewing arrangements as circumstances of you and your child change.)
  13. Solving Problems
    • Method for resolving disagreements over the parenting plan (Some people elect to use a counselor, therapist, mediator, or lawyer), you can also consider downloading coParenter
    • Payment of costs (Who will pay for these services?)
  14. Other coParenting issues – These issues may not apply to every family situation and some will depend on the age of your child.

You may choose to discuss these issues on an ongoing basis rather than dealing with them in the parenting plan but we realize the devil is in the details and providing some level of insight on these topics will help provide consistency and or insight on the lifestyle bridging between your child’s two homes.

  • Basic safety requirements, including supervision
    1. Use of helmets, car seats, safety gear
    2. Use of bike, car, motorcycles, recreational vehicle, etc.
    3. When the child can stay home alone
  • Discipline and lifestyle expectations – rules on bedtimes, homework, allowance, piercing, tattoos, dating, part-time employment, screen time on digital devices, etc. This may seem like trivial stuff but this may keep you off the mom-said, dad-said rollercoaster
  • Child’s digital habits including screen time (ex. time spent on phones, computers, and devices), access to social media, media (shows, movies, videos, etc.) and games
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Photographs sharing the child’s photo on social media
  • Family pets – Where is the pet going to live? Can the pet move between homes with the child?)
  • Involvement of new partners and family – a basic guideline on when/how to introduce new partner or sibling to a child.

This exercise is not a novel one and will take more than one sitting. Done well though, it will provide a solid framework for your family for years to come. If you haven’t already considered downloading the coParenter app then it’s worth giving a try. It has the digital tools and resources you need to design a plan, set it in motion, and keep track of your co-parenting agreements and schedules. You’ll also have access to live on-demand co-parenting professionals that can help you sort out disagreements at the fraction of the price, keeping your kids at the center… not in the middle.

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