When your divorce involves children, the value of planning cannot be overstated. This critical component of the divorce process is most readily manifested in a co-parenting plan that outlines the way in which parents will share the responsibility of raising the children during the period of separation and after divorce. A co-parenting plan provides structure for parents and children, allows all parties to fully understand the configuration moving forward, and serves as a vital asset as circumstances evolve over time.
A co-parenting plan is, above all else, intended to serve the best interests of the children. The guiding principle behind the development of a co-parenting plan is that children benefit from solid, secure, and regular relationships with both parents and that any potentially detrimental exposure to parental conflicts should be avoided at all costs. A co-parenting plan can be developed in a variety of venues, including during divorce negotiations or the divorce mediation process, but requires both parents to participate.
The details of a co-parenting plan can include: how much time the children will spend with each parent; the schedule of child custody, parenting time and visitation; how decisions about child-rearing will be made; how holidays will be divided, how information will be shared; and how parental disputes will be handled moving forward.
There is absolutely no “one size fits all” co-parenting plan that is readily applicable to all situations. In fact, the best co-parenting plans are highly customized to the unique needs and priorities of the family. When developing a co-parenting plan, there are a number of critical considerations that may help to achieve the best outcome, including:
- The ages of the children
- The schedules of the children, including daily school schedule, holidays, and vacations, as well as extracurricular activities
- Any special needs of each of the children
- The work schedules and commitments of both parents
- The distance between the parents’ respective residences and time necessary for travel
After considering the relevant factors, the co-parenting plan should explicitly outline the agreement that is achieved among the parents. This specific planning document should address:
- The weekly and monthly schedule
- The schedule of holidays
- The days and times for pick-up and drop-off of the children
- The location(s) where pick-up and drop-off will occur
The rigidity of the parenting plan may directly coincide with the level of contentiousness among the parents. In other words, parents who are relatively amicable in their divorce may be able to deviate from their co-parenting plan by accommodating each other’s needs and changing schedules. On the other hand, in more contentious situations, an explicit and concrete co-parenting plan can help to avoid potential conflicts between parents in the future.
It is important to note that the initial co-parenting plan may require modification over time, as the children grow and their needs and schedules evolve. If possible, parents should include an outline of the process that will be used to resolve future issues in their parenting plan. However, in certain circumstances, such as a job change, parental relocation, or cohabitation, the parents may need to pursue the formal process of post-divorce modification to arrive at a new co-parenting agreement.
At Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark, our seasoned divorce and family law attorneys have extensive experience assisting clients in resolving issues of child custody and developing effective co-parenting plans. Our team of legal professionals includes attorneys who work with the Division of Child Protection and Permanency, as Guardians Ad Litem, and as court-appointed parent Coordinators in high-conflict divorce cases involving children. Our knowledge allows us to work with each client to develop creative, customized solutions that are best suited for the needs of their family. For a free consultation with one of our attorneys today, contact our Morris County offices at 973-828-0829.
For additional information related to this critical component of the divorce process, access the following article: Developing Co-Parenting Plans