Writing a parenting plan can be one of the toughest parts of going through the divorce process. Figuring out when your child will spend time in your home and when your child will spend time in your co-parent’s home can be overwhelming. It can all feel like a loss when you face the reality that your child will not be in your home every day. These feelings of loss and the fear of the changes that the new schedule will bring can sometimes lead parents to write plans that do not make sense.
The ultimate goal of a parenting plan is to provide a safe and happy childhood for your child. The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines begin their discussion of co-parenting with a reminder that it is usually in a child’s best interest to have “frequent, meaningful and continuing contact with each parent.” It can be easy in the fog of divorce to lose sight of this truth. Often parents draft parenting plans with a focus on their own needs and not on the needs of the child. For example, a parent may feel a need to have a child in his or her home every day. While that may meet the parent’s needs, does it deprive the child of the ability to have meaningful contact with the other parent?
Keep a few thing in mind as you consider making a schedule for your child:
1. Your child will have two homes. Children who are parented from two homes can be happy and have full and satisfying relationships with both parents. Regular and consistent time in each home helps to build a foundation of safety and love for the child. This necessarily means that a child will be away from each parent sometimes. That is admittedly hard for parents. Harder for parents is facing an unhappy child who adjusts poorly because he or she is not getting the support needed to succeed in a new schedule.
2. Your home will be different than your co-parent’s home. You and you co-parent may have slight differences in procedures, rules and expectations. Your child will adjust best to these differences if he continues to have meaningful time in each home and the rules and procedures of both homes are supported in both homes.
3. Your child will eventually have a life which is somewhat independent of both homes. Busy children develop their own schedules filled with school activities, extracurricular activities and social activities. Generally a child can launch these activities from either household. Be sure a parenting plan provides the child with the greatest chance of success. If one parent works a schedule which makes it difficult for that parent to assist with a child’s activities and schedule, craft a schedule for the child which accounts for that fact. That might mean that the child spends more days in one home versus another. The child will adjust well if he is getting his academic, social and emotional needs met.
4. Children do not want to live out of suitcases. Some parents write parenting plans which ping-pong children between homes so frequently there is no time to even unpack. Keep in mind that children need to view their homes as places of rest and respite. Consider how a ping-pong schedule will feel to the child who is in constant motion.
No one knows the needs of your child more than you and your co-parent. When writing your parenting plan, keep the needs, feelings and interests of your child in mind. A child with two happy homes is a happy child.