Nearly 50% of all people married in the last twenty years are already divorced or will get divorced. Why? We don’t exactly know. Maybe it’s that we’re living longer – or maybe it’s the impact of technology.
Either way, divorces are more common than ever. And if there are kids in the mix – then it gets even more complicated. You’ll need to come up with a parenting plan if you want to sustain any semblance of a happy family.
Don’t know where to start or even what co-parenting means in context? Here are some helpful tips below.
What is a Parenting Plan?
Parenting plans are part child custody and part strategy. They cover who gets which children when, but also lay out guidelines for making big decisions and what to do when disagreements arise.
Parenting plans are legal, but fluid documents. As your child grows and as you both establish your new lives separate from each other, your plan may need to change.
For instance, one of you may move. Depending on the distance, that will change the hours or the setup of your custody agreement.
In a parenting plan, you have a few things to consider. First, there’s the declaration of custody.
The parenting plan needs to have the language and exact recommendation from a judge, about the custody split. This usually defines whether it’s a percentage or days/weekend split.
You’ll need to work your lives around this legal ruling. It’s not something to treat lightly. You can trade days here or there as things come up, but in general, you need to do what the judge says.
If you’re co-parenting, you’ll need to make decisions together. You are both the parents of these children and even if you don’t have equal custody, you have equal rights.
That means one parent can’t decide to pull a child out of private school (for example) and put them into public school. Changes like that need to be a joint decision.
To stick with that example, the parent who wants to move the child to public school needs to provide a reason. Is private school too expensive? If that’s the case, the pair could look at how they’re handling education bills and payments.
If the other parent is determined to keep them in private school, can they help come up with more money to make it possible?
And, how will the parent who wants to make a decision or change communicate that to their ex-partner? By phone? By text? By email?
These are all things you’ll map out as part of your parenting plan. There may even be a timing aspect, like “Mother with full custody can make child-based decisions, but if it’ll affect the other partner, they need to give two-week notice”.
General guidelines for parenting plans are generally not much help because each plan must be highly individualized to the family.
Substitutions and “Shift” Trading
Things come up in life. The judge, a good attorney and your ex-partner will likely be aware of that. If it’s your spouse’s time to have the kids and they have to go to a work conference, they can’t just say “I’m not taking them”.
They have to come up with someone (agreed upon) to watch them for that time or ask the other partner to trade time.
This goes for both parents, even if one has more custody. The more in advance people know about these plan-changing events, the better.
That way you can come up with some sort of agreement like, “If you can take them for the full week I’m out of town, I’ll do two weekends in a row”.
It’s about being cooperative and communicative. Notice the preface of both those words. That’s why they call it co-parenting.
Holidays are another thing you’ll need to note in your plan. How will you divide the time with your kids over special holidays and events? Will you switch off years?
Divide the holidays down the middle? Your lawyer can help you with this.
Financials and Taxes
First things first, raising kids is expensive. Getting a divorce doesn’t make it any less so, except that you may be splitting the cost out of separate instead of joint bank accounts.
In fact, children cost (on average) $14,000 a year. That’s not including any college funds or private education costs.
One thing that can make having children less expensive is the tax benefits. But now that you’re divorced, you can’t both claim your kids. Most people agree to switch off years claiming children on their taxes.
But what about other expenses, like childcare, education, activities, and the like? Those things are up to the two of you. If one partner makes significantly more money, it would be reasonable to expect them to cover more expenses.
And, then you have things like financial priorities. If one parent demands that the children have a private education, and the other doesn’t care, it becomes a more one-sided financial responsibility.
Some people split things like activities and clothing down the middle. Other people go by an “I pay when they’re with me, you pay when they’re with you” model for small to moderate charges.
Healthcare costs and coverage are also items to consider. Who’s going to keep paying the premiums and are you going to switch plans?
This is just a small taste of what planning a co-parenting child budget is like. That’s one reason it’s so essential to have a great lawyer by your side as you go through the process.
They’ll not only know what your plan needs to include, but they have a better, more objective opinion on what’s fair.
If you and your divorced partner and team of lawyers can’t come up with a parenting plan you agree with, the judge will put one in place for you.
Your Parenting Plan
No one likes to make all these complex and long-term decisions, but it’s part of the divorce process. The more fleshed out and personalized your parenting plan is, the better your co-parenting will be.
It’ll make your interactions with your ex more pleasant, and make the process easier on your kids.
It’s worth the time and money to work with an experienced family attorney. Contact us today to find out more about how we can help.