Taking Back Your Divorce: Crafting a Parenting Plan That Works for Your Family

Divorce can be a difficult time filled with many transitions and uncertainties. The anxiousness which naturally accompanies this process can be exacerbated when children are involved. The big question often is: how are my spouse and I going to share time with our children when we are no longer living in the same house? How are we going to make this work?
In Massachusetts, the Probate and Family Court has the authority to decide with whom children will live, when children will see their other parent, and how important decisions (i.e. medical and educational) will be made. The Judge can make such decisions on a temporary basis, while the divorce action is pending, and on a permanent basis, from the time of divorce going forward. The standard the Judge must apply in making decisions about when parents will spend time with their children is in the “best interests of the child.” This means that the Judge will decide what is best for the child, and order a parenting schedule that the Judge believes will best meet the children’s needs.
At first blush, it may seem appealing to have the Judge resolve this issue, especially if you are confident that the schedule, or “parenting plan,” that you have in mind is what is best for your children. After all, having the Judge decide would alleviate the necessity of working with your spouse to develop a mutually agreeable plan.
In some cases, it is best to leave this question for the Judge to answer. However, in others, allowing the Judge to set a parenting plan for your family may be to your detriment. Crafting a parenting plan to which you and your spouse can agree allows you to take back control, and tailor your parenting schedule to your children’s needs and your family’s life and responsibilities. Consider the following factors:
1. Who knows your children better than you?
While a Judge may only hear about your children for a few minutes, you and your spouse have raised your children, oftentimes since birth. Working with your spouse to develop a parenting plan allows you to take into consideration your children’s unique needs and desires. This is also a good means to develop a better “no longer married but still caring parents” relationship with your spouse, and gives your children an opportunity to see you and your spouse work together for their benefit.

2. You live a busy life.
Perhaps you and your spouse work, your children are involved in school and extracurricular activities, and there are a lot of schedules to coordinate on a daily basis. Working with your spouse to draft an individualized parenting plan can provide your family with the flexibility it needs; flexibility that a Judge may be hesitant to order based on time limitations or enforcement concerns.

3. You want the plan to work.
A parenting plan which assesses and addresses parents’ and children’s needs is more likely to be followed. If you are able to plan for the unique needs of your family ahead of time, there is less need to deviate from the plan as incidents arise.
If it is possible, and it’s not always possible, working with your spouse to craft your own parenting plan is something to consider. In the right circumstances, taking control of your family’s schedule could be the key to successful co-parenting going forward.

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