This month I'm continuing my series on filing for divorce without a lawyer, and in May focusing on children. When you file for divorce in West Virginia, like most states, you'll need to have a parenting plan. The plan has two parts: which nights your children sleep in each house (allocation of custodial time) and how the parents will make decisions (decision making authority). Today's post will help you develop the decision-making part of your parenting plan.
When parents are not living together, a parenting plan helps to guide the parents on how to make important decisions about their children. Plans can be developed informally between the parents, during mediation sessions, or using a collaborative process. All three of these processes may involve attorneys. Mediation may be conducted between the parties. Parenting plans can be designed by attorneys, with guidance from the parents. In situations when the parents can’t agree, the judge can develop and order a parenting plan.
Most families will be best served by developing their plan, in mediation or collaborative law. Here are some questions you may want to consider in creating your own parenting plan.
- How will decisions be shared or made about dental or medical treatment? What about vaccinations or other preventative treatments? What happens when the parents do not agree?
- How will parents notify each other when the children need emergency treatment? What if you can't reach the other parent?
- Who will take the child to medical appointments?
- How will you decide about special needs such as orthodontic treatment, counseling, physiotherapy, speech therapy, diet, glasses, prescription drugs.
- How will you be sure that both parents have access to all medical records?
- How will decisions about any choice or change in school, school program, special educational needs, tutoring, etc. be made?
- How will school records and calendars be accessed or shared?
- Will both parents attend at parent-teacher conferences and school events?
- Will both parents have the opportunity to attend school trips? How can that be facilitated?
- Can the parents agree on when children can be absent from school?
- How will you make decisions about your children’s participation in extra-curricular activities? How will you decide on what type of activities or how many?
- How will you work to develop a schedule of activities for children and resolve disputes about transportation and cost issues?
- How will these decisions about church attendance and religious upbringing be made? Will there be a process if the parents have different beliefs to introduce the children to both? What if the children chose to attend other religious services? At what age would that be possible?
- How will decisions about cultural events, education, and activities be made?
- Will the children be introduced to another language? How and when?
Grandparents and extended family
- Do you want to encourage relationships with extended family members? How often and when will visits with extended family take place? Who will be in attendance?
- How and when will children communicate with their extended family?
- Will notice of travel be given to the other parent? Should notice be given for all travel or just travel that is out of state or a certain distance?
- How do you want to address written consent for your child to travel out of the country since that is often required?
- Who will keep the child's passport? Can each parent have a copy of the passport number?
Communication between parents
- List the kind of information that you will be sharing between parents. That usually includes the children’s medical and school information, all addresses and telephone number, and any extended travel plans.
- How will you communicate? Remember that texting and email can be good for brief information but consider adding in meetings and telephone conferences periodically to address more difficult problems. Some families have on-line calendars to manage schedules
- How frequently do you expect to communicate by various methods. Setting up expectations can be helpful.
- How will you communicate in emergencies?
- Making changes to parenting plan
- You should include both formal and informal processes of making minor and major changes to the parenting plan. For example, you may want to build in flexibility on pick up times. You may then designate mediation as a process for you to work with the other parent to make major decisions about education or substantial changes in the allocation of custodial time.
Be sure to include a method for resolving disagreements over the parenting plan. We normally recommend that families attend counseling together or use a mediator to address future conflict over parenting plans. In your plan, decide how you will divide the costs for these services.
Other parenting issues
Families may want to include some of these provisions. They do not apply to every family or child, but it doesn’t hurt to think about them when you are working on the plan.
- If one parent needs to be out of town during their custodial time with the children, should the other parent have first choice at having the child with them? What if the extended time is just one night? Some plans call this "The Right of First Refusal."
- What do you consider to be basic safety requirements for your child? Do you agree about the use of helmets, car seats or when a child can be left alone? Do you agree on when a child might be able to drive or how to address underage drinking?
- Do you want to include provisions about discipline or lifestyle expectations? Some families include rules about bedtime, homework or allowances. Others require both parents agreement for piercing or tattoos. Do you want to have both parents agree on driving or part-time employment?
- Do you want to include anything about the use of computers or cell phones?
- Are there any special concerns about the child’s diet or nutrition that you want to address?
- Are their family pets? Where will the pet live? We often discuss and have families include a provision in he parenting plan about the involvement of new partners? Sometimes the parent wants to meet the new partner before the child is introduced and other times they just want some form of notice.
If you have any questions about how to develop the best parenting plan for your family, please contact me and we can review the options to help you find the best process for your family.