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You keep hearing about parenting plans, but what are they?

As you begin your divorce proceedings, other North Carolina parents may begin telling you to start thinking about your parenting plan. You may compare these plans to a child custody agreement, but they are so much more.

A parenting plan outlines in great detail how your children will live after your divorce. It includes a multitude of details regarding the ordinary issues such as visitation, drop offs and more, but it can also include a blueprint for you and the other parent to follow in order to maximize your time and relationships with the children.

The basic elements of most parenting plans

While you can include information specific to your family's needs, most parenting plans involve the following elements:

  • Create a physical custody, or parenting time, schedule. Here, you outline when each parent will physically have the children.
  • Legal custody involves making major decisions for the children such as those involving education, medical care, religion and more. You can set out how you and the other parent will make these decisions if you share legal custody, along with the types of decisions you intend to weigh in on together.
  • You can loosely outline how you will handle custody exchanges, or you can put as much detail as necessary.
  • Don't forget to address holidays, birthdays, school functions and extracurricular activities. Will you share these days, spend them together as a family or make some other arrangements?
  • School break and summer vacation also need attention. During these times, it may be possible to spend larger blocks of time with the children.
  • Vacations also need addressing since they will interrupt normal parenting time. How you handle this issue depends on your level of amicability with the other parent since some families continue to vacation together despite the divorce while others take separate ones.
  • Both parents should have equal access to health care information and school records.
  • Decide how you and the other parent will communicate about the children. This largely depends on your personal relationship.
  • Decide how you will deal with any conflicts that arise between you. Having a plan ahead of time can actually help reduce the number of conflicts.

You may also take this opportunity to include a set of "house rules" that apply to both parent's homes. This can help the children maintain a routine and schedule that helps alleviate any stress associated with the divorce and their new living arrangements. In addition, you and the other parent want to present a united front to the children as much as possible. This may mean outlining similar disciplinary rules as well in order to keep the children from playing one parent off the other.

The more your children see you and your future former spouse working together for their sake, the more easily they will transition into their new lives and the less likely they will attempt to take advantage of the situation, which most children can't help trying at least once.

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