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Adding Specifics to Your Parenting Plan Can Minimize Conflict

The Custody and Visitation Order or Parenting Plan that is signed by a court at the conclusion of a divorce or in a post-divorce proceeding generally provides at least a broad outline of where children will live during the year. A typical plan might state that during the school year, a child will reside with Parent A except for every other weekend when the child shall reside with Parent B.

The plan might include a mid-week visit, split school vacations and have the child live with Parent B for two weeks during summer vacation from school. Depending on the distance between parental homes and other factors, parents can essentially craft just about any type of parenting plan they desire as long as it is in the child's best interests.

Ideally, when parents are cooperative, communicate well and make the child's best interest their priority, parents can deviate from the written plan if they mutually agree. For example, if Parent B is going to be out of town when visitation is scheduled, the parents can simply agree to change that visitation period to a different weekend.

Unfortunately, many divorced parents do not cooperate or communicate well due to lingering hostilities surrounding the marriage and divorce. Bitter parents sometimes put their interests above those of their children and will use a child to exact revenge on the other parent by refusing any requested changes to the parenting plan or by minimizing compliance.

To eliminate or at least minimize parental game playing that uses the child as a pawn, you should add specifics and important details to your parenting plan. The more specific a plan can be, the less chance there is for a manipulative parent to escape court sanctions should a contempt action become necessary due to non-compliance with the parenting plan schedule.

Time and Transportation Specifics

Every visitation period should include a beginning and end time. If visitation is scheduled every other weekend, the plan might specifically state that Parent B will have the child from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday. Mid-week visitations should include similar specifics such as "from 5 p.m to 9 p.m."

The parenting plan should clearly state which parent is responsible to transport the child to and from each visitation and the location at which the child will be picked up and returned. The plan might state, for example, that the child shall walk or take the bus to Parent B's home following school on Friday and that Parent B will return the child to Parent A's home by 6 p.m. Sunday. Also, add a provision to cover weeks where there is no school on Friday.

Holidays and Special Occasions

The plan should state which parent the child is to be with on Mother's Day, Father's Day, the child's birthday, each parent's birthday and any other important family event. Every major holiday should also be addressed including New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and the Christmas period. You should even include Halloween so it's clear which parent will have the child for related events in the afternoon or evening.

For holidays that fall on Mondays, language is often inserted in a plan that the parent who has the child for the weekend preceding the holiday shall also have the child on Monday until a specific time.

For Thanksgiving, language might be added that the parent who has the child on Thanksgiving also gets the child on the Friday or for the entire 4-day weekend. For example, if Parent B is scheduled to have the child on Thanksgiving and the following weekend, language could be crafted to allow the child to stay with Parent B from 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day to 6 p.m. Sunday. Otherwise, Thanksgiving might simply be defined as that Thursday with a specific timeframe. 

Holidays and most special occasions should rotate, for instance with Parent A getting some days in even years and others in odd years. Parent B would have the opposite schedule. The mother should get the children every Mother's Day, with the father getting them on Father's Day. Specific times for each holiday and occasion should be included.

To prevent conflicts with the regular visitation schedule, language might be included that that holidays and special occasions take priority. If Parent A has the child during most of the summer, and Parent B's birthday falls on a non-visitation day, Parent B would be allowed visitation with the child on that day for the designated time.

School Breaks

Christmas, mid-winter and spring school breaks, along with summer vacation, should also include specific details to reduce conflicts. For shorter school breaks, alternatives include rotating the entire break annually between each parent or splitting the vacation in half. Each parent might get half the break closest to when that parent has the child for a weekend. So, if Parent A has the child on the weekend before the break, Parent A also gets Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday when the child will switch to the other parent's home through the following weekend.

The Christmas school break often creates the most conflict, so it helps to be very detailed about when the break begins and ends, which parent will have the child during what part of the break and, specifically, how Christmas Eve/Day and New Year's Eve/Day will be handled.

If summer break is to be split evenly, parents might be required to choose whether they want the first half of the break or the last half, with Parent A having the first choice in even years and Parent B having priority in odd years. The parent with priority might be required to advise the other parent by a specific date.

It may be impossible to include provisions that cover every potential scenario, but the goal is to be as specific as possible. When parental conflict is likely, it often helps to have the plan details laid out in black and white so there can't be a legitimate dispute. Consulting an experienced family attorney can be helpful as that attorney is likely to have prepared hundreds of parenting plans and dealt with a variety of parental conflicts surrounding custody and visitation.

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