Parenting Plans: A New Take on Custody Agreements

In a divorce situation, making arrangements for the custody and care of your children will be among the most difficult decisions to be made. Regardless of your feelings toward your ex-spouse, your children still deserve the best efforts of both parents in providing for them. For this reason, many divorced parents are recognizing the importance of a parenting plan that they have jointly negotiated rather than relying solely on a judge’s interpretation of the law.

Dr. Robert E. Emery, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and the Director of the Center for Children, Families, and the Law, suggests possibly leaving words such as “custody” and “visitation” out of your plan altogether. As the author of several books and over 100 publications, Dr. Emery sees a well-prepared parenting plan as one “that spells out a clear, specific schedule for children as well as guidelines for each parent’s co-parenting responsibilities and role in decision making.”

It is important to remember, he says, that the ideal arrangement is the one that works for you and your family’s specific situation, including all its complexities. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-most plan when it comes to post-divorce situations. With that in mind, Dr. Emery encourages divorced (or divorcing) parents to keep a few things in mind when considering a parenting plan.

Mom and Dad Usually Know Best

While the court may have knowledge of the law and a counselor may have formal training, neither have parented your children.  You, and yes, even your ex-spouse, are in the best position to make appropriate decisions regarding the welfare of your children. It may not be easy and it may require some sacrifice and compromise, but a plan needs to be about your parental responsibility, not just about your rights.

Take a Longer View

While the specifics of your plan can change with the needs of your family, the overall goal is to care for your children over the course of years. Finding what works best may take several weeks of experimentation, and that is perfectly fine. Take the time you need and figure it out, then adapt it as your child grows and his or her needs change.

Factor in Age and Number of Children

Certain types of parenting schedules typically work best for children of a particular age. Younger children tend to “benefit from having more of a ‘home base,’” while children a bit older are better able to work with more complicated plans. Likewise, making a plan for more than one child can have advantages and drawbacks.  An older sibling may make transitions easier for a younger child, but concerns for a younger sibling may frustrate an adolescent. Some trial and error may be required, but most families are able to find workable solutions that address the needs every child involved.

Lifestyle and Divorce Style

The relationship between you and your ex-spouse is the most important factor in the success of any parenting plan. It is absolutely vital to recognize the level to which both parents can (or cannot) work together, and how personal issues may affect the overall plan. Parents who are able to maintain a working relationship have the most flexibility and options for co-parenting, which helps provide children the best opportunity to thrive.

Know Where to Find Help

If you live in Illinois and are struggling with a parenting plan or any other child custody issues, we can help. Contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney and we will review your case. We look forwarding to working with you and making sure your rights are protected.