Parenting Plans: The Document That Can Make Co-Parenting A Little Easier
Words: Dominique De'Vizia
According to this mediator, parenting plans are key to figuring out the basics of co-parenting with your ex.
What do you do when it’s your weekend with the kids, but your ex decides he’s not ready to bring them back home?
What do you do when you and your ex decide to file the baby on your taxes separately, and you get penalized by the IRS?
What do you do when you and your ex schedule vacation for your children around the same time?
How do you determine the visitation schedule for your child if you and your ex cannot communicate effectively?
I know it is a lot to take in, right? If you have ever found yourself in one, if not all of these situations at one point or another in your co-parenting journey, then you may benefit from a parenting plan or a parenting agreement.
A parenting plan can work for you as a point of reference to help streamline the co-parenting process.
Whether used formally or informally, a parenting plan or agreement can prove beneficial for those parents who cannot seem to agree on the specifics at it pertains to the child. This plan/agreement serves as a blueprint for divorcing spouses with children, or parents who have a child and choose to no longer engage in a romantic relationship.
For those couples who are considering divorce, this document is crucial in the divorce process; most judges will not move forward without a clear and concise outline of said agreement, which is when the couple may choose to seek the assistance of a trained mediator.
A typical parenting plan will outline the following:
This should be very detailed:
Who gets the child?
On what day?
At what time will pick up/drop off occur?
Will it be a direct drop off between you and your child’s father, or will there be a third party like a grandmother, aunt, sister, or friend?
Where will this pick-up/drop-off occur? At your child’s daycare, the parking lot of local store, your house, his house, or a third party’s residence?
For example, Mary and John have agreed that John will get their two boys Friday from daycare at 5 p.m. and drop them off at daycare the following Monday at 7 a.m. where Mary will retrieve them and keep them for the week.
On one particular Friday Mary decides to go to the daycare and get the boys early from school because her parents are in town and want to spend time with the boys. Because this was not communicated to John prior to her picking the boys up, she is in breach of their parenting agreement, thus making her liable for any consequences that will follow.
In this case, John called the police and had their parenting agreement in hand when they went over to Mary's house to retrieve the kids.
How much are you expecting from your ex, and what will it cover? How often? Court documents will usually spell this out for you.
Every case is different when it comes to child support, from the amount being paid to the frequency. Depending on their jurisdiction, child support may also be tracked. In Illinois and Indiana, the courts will order the father or mother to pay the minimum bi-weekly if there is a disparity in the gross monthly income. Some judges will allow the parent to request receipts indicating that the money for child support actually went toward the necessities of the child and some will not.
However, once you receive documentation of your child support agreement enforced by the courts, you can choose to include it in your parenting agreement.
This includes health, vision, dental, and/or life insurance. The parenting plan should cover who will pay for your child’s insurance and if you will you go half.
Think of it as training wheels for your family...
Will you pay for life and health, while they pay for dental and vision?
How long will the both of you pay?
Will it be coming out of your paychecks directly, or will it be drafted from a savings account specifically for the child?
Be very specific about the answers to these questions.
What months will you get the child for vacations? How long will the vacations last?
For instance my daughter goes away with her dad because he is a truck driver. However, because she is getting older and school is not as lenient as daycare, we decided she will go away for two weeks during the school year and for a month during the summer break, and it works.
I would also suggest being flexible as life happens to everyone. If your parenting partner is unable to take the child away on the said days set forth in the parenting agreement, it may be beneficial to work out an alternate vacation schedule.
Where will the child's primary address be? Will they stay with you at your home during the week and go with dad on the weekends?
If you’re a divorced couple with a home, will the child stay put and you and your ex rotate? This, too, should be detailed and take into account the child's personal preference, like friends, bedroom items, school, and extracurricular activities.
This is very important: Who will file the baby on the taxes? Will you rotate years? Will someone file every year and you split the child tax credit?
There was an instance where a client of mine had his tax return taken from him because the mother filed the baby before he did. The IRS has no clue what the personal issues are between you and your ex. Having a plan like this in place to prove who files the child and who doesn’t could mean the difference between you getting and keeping your refund, having your refund taken, or worse, owing the IRS.
I have to say though, this plan will not necessarily keep the other person from filing the child, especially if it is done out of spite. However, showing proof of agreed-upon terms as it relates to who will file the child will help if you need to go to court or file an appeal with the IRS.
Even if you’re co-parenting with the world’s most difficult ex, you need to figure out how you’ll communicate.
Communication can be done via text, email, or the Our Family Wizard app. This app and many like it give co-parents a detailed analysis of the info being exchanged between the two parents. The best part is that the documents and conversations cannot be manipulated, and a judge, mediator, attorney, or counselor can access the app if necessary.
Please note that these are just a few key items to include in your agreement. Understand that all agreements are curated to fit the unique needs of the family. It is important that the parties make their concerns known while completing this agreement, whether through a discussion amongst themselves or with a mediator.
A parenting plan can work for you as a point of reference to help streamline the co-parenting process. Think of it as training wheels for your family, until you and your parenting partner can mutually and respectfully agree on the issues regarding the child. If you choose to curate this agreement with yourself and your partner, it is only legally enforceable if you and your parenting partner have an attorney look it over for potential errors, get it signed by the two of you, and then have it filed within your county. If by chance the other parent does not adhere to the agreement, consult a family law attorney.
Dominique De’Vizia is a blended family coach, mediator, and single mother. She helps single parents curate a strategy that will allow them to date on purpose and form and retain healthy parenting partnerships while blending their families. You can follow her on Twitter.