“The best interest of the child.”
If you happen to be going through a divorce – and children are involved – then this is a phrase that you may often hear. In my professional experience, I have seen far too many angry, jilted spouses choose to weaponize their children during the divorce instead of making sure that the divorce does not result in any collateral damage to the children.
One technique that I have found to be particularly useful in mediating issues centered around the children is to implement a detailed “parenting plan.” Your family court will want to see that your children are prioritized and – of course – that everything is done in “the best interest of the child(ren).”
Developing, perfecting, and integrating a parenting plan will ensure that your children are protected, no matter how difficult the divorce may be.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
In creating a parenting plan, here are some tips on what NOT to do:
Avoid anything vague.
Do not leave anything open to interpretation. This could allow an opportunistic ex-spouse to slide in and make your life difficult (which will only make your children’s lives more difficult too). It is important to be as specific as you can when crafting a parenting plan. Spare no details.
For example, are you creating a visitation schedule? Don’t just put “every other Saturday” – put “every other Saturday at 10:00 AM with transfers to be conducted at the Popeye’s on Airline Drive.” You can even put in the specific dates instead – “July 6th, 2019; July 20th, 2019; August 3rd, 2019; etc.” Leave nothing ambiguous.
Do not assume.
We all know the old saying about what happens when we “assume.” It is amplified tenfold when going through a divorce. Don’t leave out certain responsibilities because you assume that your ex-spouse will take care of it, even if they were the ones who “assumed” that responsibility during the marriage. Make sure the parenting plan covers every responsibility that matters.
If your ex-husband always used to pay for your child’s tuition, don’t assume that he will continue to do so. Who is going to pay for tuition in 2020? Who is going to cover the child on their health insurance plan? The only person who suffers from these misguided assumptions is your child, who could be left without a school or without health insurance because his/her parents are being vindictive towards the other.
Now that you know what not to do when crafting a parenting plan, here are some other issues that absolutely must be addressed:
4 Tips to Create the Perfect Plan
It is tremendously important to be as detailed as possible when it comes to agreeing on a visitation schedule. The last thing your child needs is to see his/her parents fighting over who should have him/her during the weekend. Studies have shown that this has horrific psychological ramifications on the child, who will often blame themselves for the fighting.
To avoid this, make sure your parenting plan covers everything. This includes not only weekends, but school days/nights and holidays. Spell out exactly which days the non-domiciliary parent gets the child, the exact time he/she is to pick the child up and return the child, and the location of the pick-ups. If there is a non-holiday function that needs to be addressed (i.e. a yearly summer vacation), address it. Leave no stone unturned.
Every divorce is different and no two divorces are the same. One variable that is completely unpredictable concerns the parties’ ability (or lack thereof) to interact with the other when it comes to raising their child. Some couples cannot bear to be in the same room with each other; others cannot verbally speak to each other without a war of words being waged.
One tool that I have found to be tremendously successful, no matter the relationship, is Online/Digital Co-Parenting Communication. These come in the form of various apps or websites where parents can log in and communicate with each other through a digital platform. Not only does this remove the strain/tension of an in-person or verbal conversation, but it puts everything in writing, which eliminates any “he said/she said” issues that tend to arise. You can share information, calendar issues and track expenses.
Examples include: Our Family Wizard, Coparently, and Cozi.
Where is your child going to go to elementary school? How about high school? Who will pay tuition? What extracurricular activities is your child going to participate in? And who will pay for that? What are you all going to do when it is time for your child to start applying to college?
These are all questions that will need to be answered, and it is best to lay the groundwork for those answers in your parenting plan. You may not know which high school your child is going to right now, but do you know that your ex-spouse will be paying for it? Your child’s education is important, so it is equally important for you and your spouse to agree on as many education-related issues as possible.
As I mentioned before, the facts of each divorce always vary, and some issues may be present in certain cases and absent in others. For example, you may insist on your child Facetiming or Skyping you before bed when she is with the other parent. It may be important for your child not to fall out of that routine, so you may want to include that in the parenting plan. “On nights where (your child) sleeps over at (the other parent’s) house, (you) are entitled to 20 minutes of either Facetime or Skype with (your child) between 8:00 PM and 9:00 PM.” See? It is that easy.
Imagine a parenting plan failing to include this, you wanting to Facetime your child, and your ex telling you no. Without this included, you have no recourse other than a bitter verbal argument that will hopefully not occur in front of your child. Now do you see why I am emphasizing the importance of a detailed parenting plan to fit your needs?
Those are just a few examples of topics that can and should be addressed in every parenting plan. Others include:
- Taxes (who will claim the child as a dependent?)
- Medical Care (who is going to pay for the child’s health insurance?)
- Relocation (what happens if you get a job out-of-state?)
Make no mistake – the most important part of your life right now is your child. Period. Too often have I seen parents lose sight of this fact as they aim to be as vindictive as possible towards their ex-spouse during a bitter divorce. But a good parenting plan is the sign of a good parent, and is always in “the best interest of the child.”
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