Even when you are going through mediation, divorce with children is never easy. Since your children were born, you and your family have been going about things a certain way. You have planned family vacations, birthday parties, and other events as a family unit. Often times, if one of the parents stays at home with the children while the other works, this parent has been doing a majority of the planning. The other parent is left feeling helpless without a firm grasp on the children’s school activities. In addition, the parent who stays at home with the children is more likely to have built relationships with the parents of your children’s best friends. So, where does all of this leave you after your divorce?
The most important point to consider is that the culture of your family is going to have to change. Co-parenting is really about working together for the best interests of your children. This means that you are both going to have to take an active role in parenting. That being said, the transition from the way your household is run now to how it will be when you are co-parents may be a difficult one. Luckily, a good mediator can help you through this challenge. When you go through divorce mediation, you and your spouse will have to sit down and look at your children’s school calendar for the year, as well as your own. In order to make an effective parenting plan, you will have to know what the year holds. Once you have done that, consider the following points:
1. Family Vacations.
Do you and your children usually make time to take a family vacation? If so, you will most likely want to continue this tradition. If you want to continue traveling with your children, you and your spouse will have to think about the concept of notice. As in, how much notice will you want to receive if your spouse takes your children out of town? Will that period of notice be different if the children are traveling outside of Orange County, the state, or the country? Also think about what is realistic for travel. Sometimes, parents are used to taking their children out of town for 2-3 weeks at a time. Given that both parents are going to want to travel with the kids, and in light of summer camps and other extracurricular activities your kids participate in, this may not be fully realistic. Work with your spouse to determine what length of time is reasonable for your vacations. This really helps in the planning process and can eliminate unnecessarily conflict later down the road.
As a more practical matter, think about your children’s important documents. Where are their passports? What about their birth certificates? Who will hold on to these items. To avoid arguments over this, we suggest a few different options. First, parents can keep these important documents in a safety deposit box at the bank, where both signatures are required to take them out. Second, if a parent is traveling with the children, he/she can keep the important documents until the other parent needs them. Third, you can choose a trusted family member or family friend to hold on to these documents for you. The important thing is that you want to be organized when it is time to travel.
Just because your kids are out of school, it doesn’t mean that you are off of work. Therefore, it may make sense for your parenting plan to stay the same while summer and other breaks are taking place. A lot of parenting plans will state that the parents will adhere to the regularly scheduled visitation unless they mutually agree otherwise. In the event of travel or other special occasions, the parents can then simply agree to deviate from the normal weekly schedule. Another option available is to set a separate schedule for the summer, spring and winter breaks. This will lay out a detailed schedule that you and your spouse will follow for these designated times. When planning out these breaks, keep in mind that the kids may have camps, sleep overs, and other activities they want to attend.
Holidays are probably the most emotional part of creating a parenting plan. Parents and families have a lot of set traditions, and the idea of being without the children on these special days can be heart breaking. While there is no easy way to make the transition from having your kids every holiday to a parenting plan, cooperation and flexibility certainly help. Believe it or not, we have had many clients who still get along well enough to spend the holidays together. Therefore, we build their parenting plan accordingly, but leave a “back up” plan in place in the event that something comes up. Parents will also have the option to share the holidays in any other way they choose. They can alternate the holidays year-to-year, or have a set schedule that they will follow consistently each year. Remember, the holidays will still be special when you are with your children. You will just have to recreate the way that you celebrate. When you are building your parenting plan, try your best to set your emotions aside and remember that the holidays are about the children. You must make decisions that are best for them.
It seems like children are involved in so many different activities today. There are all kinds of camps and extracurricular activities to choose from. While these activities can be great for your kids, they are also costly. To ensure that your children can continue to participate in everything they do now, you and your spouse will have to come to an agreement about how these costs will be shared. Some parents agree to do this in proportion to their incomes, while some share these costs 50/50. Depending on the family’s financial circumstances, one spouse may cover all of the costs of these activities. Many of our clients find it helpful to create a spreadsheet of their living expenses that detail everything that the kids participate in. It is important to come to your mediation prepared to discuss these costs.