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Almost all parents either in divorce or a custody case, are very concerned about their children and their custody status.  This after all defines who makes the major decisions for the child and where the child lives.  What is most often forgotten though outside of custody and visitation, is the child’s own life over the next 18 years or so depending on the age of the child.  What determines this is the parenting plan you and the other parent agree to, or in some cases don’t agree to but have to follow anyways after a lengthy court battle.

The blueprint for how to raise the child until they are adults should be much more comprehensive than just a visitation schedule and child support arrangement.  After all, you are thinking most typically about the short-term future rather than the long-term plan.  A successful parenting plan needs to incorporate sufficient details in order to root out the details of the life of the child.  This will include conflict between the parents over what activities the child will participate in, to who is paying for car insurance when they can drive.
In the interests of their children, a parenting plan which maintains a strong relationship with both parents should be created, irrespective of who has legal or physical custody. A comprehensive plan offers children a predictable pattern to their lives, regardless of the quality, frequency and reliability of parent-to-parent communication.   This pattern is very important to ensuring your child a happy life.


1.      Clear definitions of the time each parent will spend with the child.  Short visits, especially those less than three hours, create a high likelihood of emotional frustration and acting out. It is important to remember that your divorce or custody case isn’t just affecting your life but the child’s as well.  They need clear definitions in order to avoid frustrations and feelings of being forgotten by one parent.

2.      Clear rules for pick-up and drop off of the child.  This will ensure that there is no fighting over who is doing what before or after the child is exchanged and can help to avoid the child feeling as though they are causing their parents to fight.

Neutral locations are preferred when possible, but if they are not, creating the least stressful environment for your child will go a long way in easing their emotions.

3.      Provisions for phone, internet, email, Skype, and other forms of contact with the child.  Windows of time usually work best for the child in order to help them build a routine.  While they may share their day with the custodial parent during dinner time, having some time alone to talk to the other parent is just as essential so they feel close to both parents.

In most families one call a day from a parent to the children is sufficiently frequent.  Unlimited phone contact can be intrusive and/or disruptive. The need for frequent communication can often be better handled by fax, e-mail, or IM.  Remember though, you may not be “most families”.  It is important to tailor your plan to your unique situations.

When setting up a plan for staying in touch consider privacy issues for the children so that communication can be free of parental interference.

4.      What will happen when there is an emergency cancellation or last-minute delay?  Not only the children, but also both parents, will inevitably be impacted by last-minute changes or cancellations.  Make-up time needs to be addressed.

5.      Long term financial burdens.  While child support seems like it is the only option, many parents are not thinking in long terms as to what will happen during the child’s life.

Whether the issue that comes up is sports, cheerleading, scouting organizations, church activities, band, or other extra-curricular activities, if not thought out ahead of time, one parent always feels the financial burden more than the other.

Activities like this can take a financial toll on the custodial parent.  This toll is sure to show to the child, who may feel that one parent doesn’t support their activities and can cause strain on their relationship with that parent.  Planning until the child turns 18 and has graduated high school will ensure both the parents and the child a much happier life as they grow older.

6.      Travel Expenses.  Who will be paying for travel expenses and how that is handled is important.  If one parent wants to take the child on a trip out of the country for instance, and the other never leaves, who should carry this burden.  Also it is important to think about what happens if in 2 years, the other parent then decides to take the child out of the country on holiday.

7.      Taxes.  Who will get to claim the child on tax returns is also very important.  As is, how the parties will cooperate with the other parent to ensure they are able to.  In today’s tax world, it’s not just as easy as saying every other year anymore.  There are tax forms and other documents that will need to be signed by a parent from time to time.  Addressing these concerns now can help eliminate your future tax stress.

While this list is not complete, it is designed to give you a general idea of the many, many things that will come up over your child’s life.  Being able to avoid hiring an attorney down the road to settle these types of disputes; will save you another headache as your child grows older.  It will also give you a peace of mind that everything you are doing for your child is for the best.  While sometimes you have to give a little to get a little in these types of cases, having both yours and your child’s best interests in mind will make for a more pleasant experience both now and down the road.

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