Including a complete parenting agreement in your divorce makes the difference between calm relationships with your children and your ex, and constant angst. Confusion and hurt thrive during and after divorce, for both spouses and children. But a complete parenting agreement, sometimes called a parenting plan, cuts through the confusion and minimizes hurt feelings by defining both parents' expectations concerning parenting techniques, communication, scheduling and even safety.
Physical and Legal Custody
Designating which parent has physical custody and agreeing on legal custody are part of a parenting plan's basic foundation. Physical custody, sometimes called residential custody, determines which parent the children live with full-time and their permanent physical address for school and vital records. Legal custody refers to which parent has decision-making authority. While physical custody is often designated to one parent, legal custody may be jointly-shared, giving the parents equal say in decisions, such as religion, education and health care.
Parenting Practices and Principles
In the parenting plan, parents often agree to be consistent regarding parenting practices and principles. Parenting practices include routines for homework, video games and bedtime. Parenting principles include requiring the children to be respectful of the other parent and encouraging a healthy relationship with the other parent.
With joint legal custody, each parent has equal right to information about the children, such as the children's weekly appointments, school, sports events and so on. The agreement should specify when and how the parents communicate about the children.
Visitation Schedule and Transportation
A visitation schedule should be included in the agreement, including what time of day visitation begins and ends and who transports the children. It should address whether the visitation is forfeited if the children are sick or if it will be made up, and provide a notice requirement for unexpected changes. Holidays, summer vacations and recurring special events, such as birthdays, should be addressed in equal detail, including a division of financial responsibility and designation of who is welcome to attend special events.
Safety-Focused Parenting Plans
If one parent has a history of violence or making threats against the children or other parent, a safety-focused parenting plan may be necessary. In such a situation, visitation may be supervised, which may occur at a court-designated facility in the presence of child behavioral specialists. Alternatively, supervised visitation may be required, but in the presence of a court-designated adult who has been mutually agreed-upon by the parents. Unsupervised visitation may be agreed-upon but with no overnights. Lastly, if the children are in no danger from the parent but the other parent is, visitation may be required to begin and end at the court-designated facility where the children may be safely exchanged without contact between the parents.