A divorce or separation is a difficult time for both partners involved. But you don’t worry about yourself as much as you worry about your children. The family life they’re accustomed to is about to get uprooted.

To ensure your children have some sense of stability, it’s a good idea to create a parenting plan. You and your spouse should meet together-with a lawyer, if necessary-and create a plan of how to handle parenting in the future.

While a parenting plan is not legally binding like a parenting order is, it gives you more control over your family situation. It helps you decide on certain things outside of court, reducing time and stress for your entire family.

Here are some items you should include in your parenting plan.

  1. Where Your Children Will Live

This factor is the most important one to consider, and it can lead to the most conflict between partners. However, your first concern should be the wellbeing of your children. Your children have the right to have a relationship with both their parents.

If feasible, you can work out an arrangement where your child will spend time with both you and your partner. If your child will live mainly with one parent, your parenting plan should outline how often he or she will visit the other parent. Keep travel time and transportation costs in mind as you make this decision.

Circumstances may differ, however, particularly if your partner is violent or abusive. In this case, seek the support of a lawyer.

  1. Where Your Children Will Go for Holidays

Holidays can be difficult to coordinate. You and your partner both want to share major holidays, birthdays and other events with your children. You may wish to divide up the holidays evenly between you and your spouse, or your children could spend a certain holiday with you every other year.

If you decide now where your child will be for each holiday, you won’t need to contend with your partner later on.

  1. Decisions Regarding Your Child’s Daily Life

As a parent, you have a right to make important decisions that will affect your child’s life, such as:

  • Where he or she will attend school
  • How many activities or sports will he or she participate in and how you will support him or her in these activities
  • How often he or she will spend time with grandparents and other relatives

You may also wish to make discipline-related decisions, such as how often he or she should watch TV or what type of foods he or she should eat. If you and your partner agree on these things, you can maintain a consistent parenting style.

Once you and your partner agree upon these decisions, include them in the parenting plan.

Other Factors to Consider

While your parenting plan may feel set in stone, situations may arise that alter your plan. You and your partner should decide in advance what to do if you need to re-negotiate the parenting plan. Will you communicate by phone, email or in person?

If your children are older, you should ask for their input before creating the parenting plan. They’ll feel more comfortable if they have a say in these important, life-altering decisions.

Creating a family plan can help your children feel more stable and cared for. It can also reduce tension between you and your partner.

If you and your partner can’t agree on the parenting plan, talk to a family lawyer. He or she can help you come to an agreement. In some cases, you may need to take the case to court. Talk to a family lawyer about the best course of action.

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