Many experts agree that shared custody (responsibility) is the best divorce outcome for Massachusetts families. In order for both parents to be as involved in their children's lives as possible, many turn to parenting plans. A well-drafted plan has the ability to put in writing the agreements made by both parties regarding the raising and care of a couple's children.
An effective parenting plan should cover a wide range of factors and information that reflect the specific needs of the family, but there are five general components that every plan should contain.
Schedules of contact
Whether a couple decides their children's child custody arrangement together or it is determined by a judge in a courtroom, a schedule of contact is an essential part of a good parenting plan. Parents should take the age of their children into account when creating a schedule that provides consistency and familiarity. Having the schedule down in writing keeps both parents committed to respecting it and the other parent. While flexibility is important, a specific parenitng schedule can help reduce conflict over issues that could otherwise arise, including the following:
- Childcare and babysitting
- Handling a child's personal belongings
- A child's social life
- Changes to the parenting schedule
For some couples, the process of transferring children between residences can become complicated. It may be a good idea to include an outline for how transfers are to be handled as part of the parenting schedule, including which parent will pick up the child, where the transfers will take place and how long each parent should wait at the pickup.
Schedules for holidays and school breaks
Holidays and summer breaks should take precedence over the regular parenting schedule, and a separate schedule should be included in a parenting plan as guidance for how and where children should spend the special days. Family traditions are an important part of children's lives, and parents should do as much as possible to ensure that the extended family members from both sides are included.
When setting up a holiday or school break schedule parents should utilize their children's school schedule. Some parents choose to swap years for the bigger holidays, such as Christmas or Easter, while others prefer to split the day, allowing the children time with each parent for a portion of the holiday.
Expectations for parental communication
Co-parenting is more successful when both parties are able to communicate well. Parents should avoid using children as go-between messengers and should instead decide together on the best means of communication. Some parents prefer to speak directly, over the phone, through text messages or via email. Whatever works best for the couple should be stated in writing so that the expectation is there and will be followed.
Included in communication arrangements should be measures for dispute resolution. If parents find that there is an issue that they cannot resolve and that their plan does not outline, it may be beneficial to consider the use of an outside source for help. The parenting plan should include how and when dispute resolution is needed and guidelines for solving problems.
Handling important decisions
If parents have shared legal custody, they both have the right to make decisions regarding the health, education and welfare of their children. When possible, parents should agree ahead of time how these decisions should be handled. Healthcare considerations, such as vaccinations, emergency medical treatment and regular checkups, should be outlined in the plan in order to avoid confusion when the need arises. Educational decisions, including where children attend school, how records should be shared and attendance at school functions, should also be covered.
In Massachusetts, financial arrangements, such as child support, are generally handled separately from child custody, but setting up provisions in a parenting plan for parental responsibility for other financial needs may be beneficial. Which parent pays for clothing, gifts and other extra expenses may need to be covered in the plan to help avoid misunderstanding or conflict. Parents may want to outline what expenses are considered separate from child support, like daycare, extracurricular activities or tutoring.
When drafting a parenting plan, it is important to be as specific as possible. By obtaining legal assistance, parents may be able to come up with a parenting plan that meets the needs of all involved parties.
Should you need assistance in drafting a comprehensive parenting plan, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.