When you're first told you are going to be a father, naturally the expectations of what the future will look like pop into your head. You think of fishing trips and baseball games, ballet recitals and happy holiday memories being created.
At first you and mom, are getting along great, you agree on what needs to be done to properly raise a child. Mom's in charge a lot, at first, because of the necessity to breastfeed, attend to the endless needs of a newborn and her own maternal instincts. This works at first, but it also sets a pattern for your relationship with your child. Mom's in charge and dad does what mom says to provide for the growth and well-being of the newborn.
That pattern continues, and hopefully in healthy relationships the parties begin to equalize as the baby becomes a toddler and mom can back off and dad can take on a stronger role. But not always. Sometimes, the relationship stays imbalanced, and then a divorce happens. Now the parties have to come up with a written agreement on how to parent their child.
Most parents don't have too much conflict over this. Thanks to a common heritage, or at least a common set of desires, the parenting plan can fairly easily be agreed to. Mom gets Mother's Day, Dad gets Father's Day, they alternate the big holidays, etc.
Then there is the Grand Battle Royale. Where one parent doesn't want to share the child. Usually it is mom, who is too attached to her child, and she feels that dad is a bad influence, lacks parenting skills, is too indulgent or too strict, "never shows up on time, returns on time," has a new girlfriend who is "inappropriate."
This is where the parenting plan becomes the roadmap of your relationship — not only with your child — but with your ex. The parenting plan will determine when you as a father have time with your child. If you have a cooperative ex, this can be a very flexible agreement, as simple as, "we'll share the kids," other times you need to have an excruciatingly specific plan.
This plan will determine who much, how long and how often you have to interact with your ex and your child. If she's still angry and bitter, the more specific the plan, the easier it will be to have a court, or the police enforce it, and that means the fewer headaches you will have. When you need to have a specific plan, here are 10 tips for what to have in your parenting plan:
1. Visitation times. They need to be clearly stated with grace periods.
2. Summer visitation. It should be clearly stated in the plan.
3. Winter visitation. They should be clearly stated in the plan.
4. Holidays. They should be defined as beginning at XX:00 P.M and ending at XX:00 a.m.
5. Special occasions. When a dad's holiday falls on mom's weekend, which one takes precedence, it should be the holiday, and vice versa.
6. Religious training. It should be defined if they parties have different religious views.
7. Drop-off and pick-up times. They should be defined as well as locations for ALL activities
8. Extra-curricular activities need to be accounted for. If soccer practice cuts into mom's custodial time, the child shall remain in practice, but the time shall be credited to mom.
9. Responsibilities for cross-over times. They need to be spelled out. Dad will take child to ballet class, mom shall pick up from class.
10. Who pays for extras? Soccer, ballet and debate team costs need to be split up and clearly explained.
Visit divorce360.com for help before, during and after divorce. David Pisarra is an attorney, columnist and entrepreneur, who operates Pisarra & Grist in Santa Monica, Calif.
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