Drafting a parenting plan at the start of the custody battle can help prepare you to negotiate a compromise with your soon-to-be-ex. Incorporating the right elements into your parenting plan can help navigate the custody process and maintain a strong relationship with your child.
For most parents, the child custody battle is one of the most stressful parts of a divorce. During the child custody process, the court often asks parents to work together and draft a parenting plan to determine how to handle child custody.
Drafting a parenting plan of your own at the start of the custody battle can help prepare you to negotiate a compromise with your soon-to-be-ex. Incorporating the right elements into your parenting plan can help you navigate the custody process and maintain a strong relationship with your child.
Drafting the Ideal Parenting Plan
During a custody battle, the court asks both parents to draft a parenting plan.
In most cases, the court encourages parents to work together and develop a joint parenting plan that represents a compromise between both parties. However, a joint parenting plan isn't always possible. If the parents can't reach an agreement, they must each submit a parenting plan to the court. The court then evaluates both parenting plans and tries to develop a final parenting plan for the parties.
If possible, working with your soon-to-be-ex to develop a joint parenting plan is recommended, since you at least have some control over the process. If you leave your parenting plan up to the court, you have very little leverage or control of how they handle it. Additionally, courts typically favor whichever parent is more agreeable during the custody battle.
Whether you negotiate a parenting plan with your ex or leave it in the hands of the court, drafting a strong parenting plan is vital. If you negotiate with your ex, having an ideal parenting plan ahead of time helps you identify areas where you can compromise. If you can't settle with your ex, a more comprehensive parenting plan might pave the way towards a favorable judgment.
Your custody attorney can help you draft a strong parenting plan. Your parenting plan should cover the following aspects of your child custody arrangement:
- The timeshare. How much time each parent spends with the children is perhaps the biggest aspect of any custody arrangement. Think about how to handle holidays and vacations. Courts typically prefer joint custody plans, so consider drafting an arrangement where the parents switch off as the "custodial" parent or "head of household" every year to make taxes more equitable. If you don't think joint custody is appropriate, have a solid argument for why (and prepare evidence that supports your case). The more time and effort you put into details of your timeshare (like specifying that neither parent should have the children for three consecutive weekends), the easier co-parenting will be.
- Parental conduct. If one parent disparages the other to their child(ren), it can negatively affect the parent-child relationship for all parties. You should include specifications in the child custody order that prevent both parents from disparaging each other in front of their child.
- Provisions for essential quality of life items like medical care, education, cultural exposure, etc. Both parents should be on the same page concerning what school they want their child to attend, the role of religion or other cultures in the child's life, and how to handle medical emergencies or expenses.
- Appearance changes. You might want to include a clause specifying that a child can't undergo major appearance changes (extreme haircuts, piercings, etc.) unless both parents agree.
- Itemizing expenses like healthcare. Splitting costs like health insurance comes with risks. For example, if one parent is delinquent on child support, can the other parent pay for the insurance in the interim? Itemizing insurance fees and other costs can help prevent difficulties by placing the onus for different fees on one parent.
- How to handle digital devices and media. Social media and digital devices now play an essential role in any child's life. Parents should agree on what social media platforms their child can use, what sorts of interactions they should have, and how much total screentime they're allowed.
- How to handle safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed blind spots in many parenting plans regarding safety. How will you handle it if one parent gets sick and can't take care of the child? How will you schedule playdates if you're concerned about a global pandemic? These questions will only become more relevant moving forward.