We also see divorced couples going back to court frequently for post-divorce litigation and mediation. Often, what brings them back are errors, omissions and oversights in their original parenting plans. Avoid repeated trips back to court by reading this article and following its advice.
The Schedule Is The Single Most Important Issue
Visitation (parenting time) is almost always the single most contested issue for both parents. More parents return to court for visitation-related matters than anything else, which is why it's critical to have the parenting schedule spelled out clearly and in detail. By having a clear, unambiguous schedule to refer to parents can avoid wasting large amounts of both time and money in the future.
Benefits To The Children
Having a well-defined parenting schedule also provides the children with the stability of a consistent routine (this is especially important for infants, toddlers, and younger children). Older children can cope with schedule changes more easily (and may in fact, participate in them). It also ensures that the children will see each parent regularly, and often helps to reduce conflict between the parents (which benefits to everyone).
Changing The Parenting Plan
If the parenting plan is found to be truly unworkable, we recommend that the parents try to draft a new plan together that resolves the issues they disagree over. Obviously this isn't always possible- if the parents could collaborate this closely to begin with, the divorce might not have occurred in the first place. But, it's always worth a try. If the other parent is simply not willing to collaborate on a new parenting plan, consider obtaining a well-drafted parenting plan, modify it to fit your circumstances, and go from there. (We recommend the parenting plans from parentingplan.net. The feedback we've received indicates they're both comprehensive and affordable.)
How Detailed Should A Parenting Plan Be?
A question we often hear in discussion of parenting plans is "How long should a parenting plan be?" The answer is "Long enough to cover all (yes, all) the issues you're likely to encounter until your children are grown." Realistically, in sheer page count, this often works out to a parenting plan that is 20 to 30 pages in length, possibly more depending on circumstances. A 5-page parenting plan simply cannot cover everything that you're going to run across in the next 5 or 10 years.
Talk To Others About Your Parenting Plan
We highly recommend discussing your proposed parenting plan with others who've dealt with both good and bad parenting plans. The advice they have can be invaluable- chances are they've made mistakes you can avoid by drafting a good plan the first time. Many, many parents will tell you something like, "If I'd only known that (insert issue) would be a problem..." The take-away here is to learn what others have gone through and benefit from it.
Don't Rush Through Your Parenting Plan
Sometimes parents rush through the parenting plan part of the divorce and agree to things they later regret. Sometimes it's because they don't understand the long-term implications, sometimes it's because they think that they can work things out later, and sometimes they just want to be done with the whole, stressful mess. Our advice is to take your time and make sure that you end up with a plan you can live with and abide by. Don't agree to any stipulation in the hope that you can ignore it later or because it doesn't seem important now. It'll seem important later, when it's much, much more difficult to do anything about it.
Making Your Own Parenting Plan
After years and years of reading discussions about parenting plans and seeing both the good and the bad, we don't recommend trying to write your own plan from scratch. We used to, but not any more. In fact, we caution you not to try and draft a "homegrown" parenting plan. You will almost certainly make numerous, serious mistakes, including forgetting to specify important provisions (many of which will never have even occurred to you). These mistakes will dog you for years and may end up costing you valuable time with your children as well as a great deal of money spent on attorneys fees.
Get It Right The First Time
Remember, you're going to have to live with the provisions in your parenting plan for years and years to come- it's important to get it right the first time. As mentioned above, we highly recommend the parenting plans available from ParentingPlan.net. Their Parenting Plan Kit includes ten (10) complete parenting plans, including Standard, Shared, Comprehensive Sole Custody, Military Service Plan, an Interstate / Long-Distance plan, a Supervised 4-Phase Visitation Plan, and several others. They're available at a fraction of what an attorney would charge and are much more detailed than the "boilerplate" plans that most of them provide