Frequently Asked Questions: Parenting

What should I be thinking about relative to parenting?

This list sets out the most common subjects that parents who live in two separate households have to work our for their children.

As for work on your parenting plan, you should think about how detailed it needs to be. Some parents prefer a very detailed plan and others prefer a general description. This list is meant to help you think about the detail that is available to you. You can use or reject any part of the list. You can put your decisions in writing or just use the list to consider your options in informal discussion with the other parent.

This is about your individual parenting styles as you review the list, and think about how well you get along together. In general, if you have similar styles and if you get along well in making decisions for your children, the LESS detail you may need. If you have very different approaches to parenting and if you do not get along well with each other, you may want MORE detail spelled your parenting plan.

The laws of parenting are complex. Please consider hiring an attorney to help you understand the laws and to guide you through the demanding and often technical court process.

General Considerations

  1. Are there strong differences in your belief systems that will affect your parenting?
  2. Are there major differences in the way you discipline the children that should be taken into consideration?
  3. Is either parent reasonably worried about a child’s safety when the child is with the other parent?
  4. How well do you get along together when you are making decisions about your children?
  5. Do you feel more comfortable designing a parenting plan with more detail or less detail?

The Parenting Schedule

  1. Do you want to make a daily, weekly or yearly schedule? Or do you think it will be workable to use general words like “liberal access” or “open and reasonable visitation?” (Most people need some structure in order to have some order and predictability in their daily lives. This is especially true after the children are in school or if both parents work outside the home. You might want to consider a minimum schedule with the right to add to it if you both agree).
  2. How should the drop-off and pick-up be arranged? Where should it take place? Who should provide the transportation? What are the times when it occurs?
  3. What if one of you is late?
  4. Are there going to be overnights right away? Do you need to phase them in?
  5. Who has responsibility if a child becomes sick in one household or another? Who deals with the doctor? What kind of notice to the other parent do you want? Who has the authority to decide about medical treatment?
  6. What should happen if the parent who has the child needs a babysitter? Should the other parent be given the opportunity to provide childcare during that period? Should you each be responsible for finding your own sitter? Should you work together to select a list of babysitters you both trust?

Vacation

  1. Is it okay for each parent to take the children out of state on a temporary basis?
  2. It is okay for each parent to take the children out of the country on a temporary basis?
  3. What vacation schedule should you use given the age of the child at this time in his or her developmental readiness to spend time away from the other parent? When should the vacation schedule be reviewed in order to reflect the child’s growing ability to tolerate time away from the other parent?
  4. Would it be helpful to your child to have phone contact with the absent parent during vacations? If so, how often and who initiates the call?
  5. What system should you put in place so that the traveling parent provide the other parent with a list of the dates and places and phone numbers where the child will be going on vacation?

Holidays

  1. What are the holidays that are important to you each year?
  2. What about birthdays? The children’s? Yours?
  3. Will it help you to arrange regular holiday schedules within the Parenting Plan? (For example, dividing the holiday itself each year, or alternating years)?
  4. What about Monday holidays?
  5. Are there traditions in the extended family that help you plan holidays?

Communication Procedures

  1. Do you need to create a definite procedure for your ongoing communication about the children? (The level of conflict between you is one way to test whether or not you need such a procedure). Should you communicate in writing? By phone? By e-mail? How often? About what? Are there subjects you should stay away from? Should there be rules for what to do if you argue during a communication?
  2. How should a change of schedule be handled? Should it be different if it’s an emergency or other last minute change as opposed to a change with more lead time? Does it make sense to “make up” lost visits or just assume that they will even out over time?
  3. What is the chain of communication about changes in the schedule? How can you assure that the adults work together and the children are not burdened with carrying messages for the adults?
  4. Do you need to spell out a schedule for phone contact between the parents?
  5. Do you need to spell out a schedule for phone contact between a parent and the children? If so, when should phone calls take place? How long should they be? Can a child initiate a phone call?

Children’s Belongings

  1. Do you need (and can you afford) two sets of everything so the children have what they need in each household (especially toothbrushes and other toiletries)? What about clothing? Will you be able to agree on what articles of clothing remain in which house? Will you be able to agree on responsibilities for laundering? For buying clothes?
  2. If you don’t have two sets of everything, do you need guidelines for how to move a child’s things between the two households? (Think about homework, sports equipment and musical instruments).
  3. Do you need to specify responsibility for preparing items to travel between households?

School

  1. Do you need to work out a process for selecting a school? (For example, should the child go to public or private school)?
  2. How will you handle a change of schools, if needed?
  3. How can you assure that both parents have access to the child’s teachers? To parent/teacher conferences? To other school events?
  4. How can you assure that both parents have access to report cards and other school documents? Do you have to arrange with the school to send a copy to each household? Or can you arrange the sharing yourselves?
  5. Do you need to work out your responsibilities for helping the children with homework or school projects?

Extra-Curricular Activities

  1. Can you work together to help the children choose extracurricular activities? Or should you set some guidelines in the Parenting Plan for how such activities will be chosen?
  2. Do you need a plan for arranging transportation of the children to their extracurricular activities?
  3. Will you both have the right to attend the extracurricular activities? Can you be there at the same time without arguments or tension?

Religious Planning

  1. Will your children have religious training or education? How will you decide?
  2. Will your children attend church, synagogue or another religious institution? Where? How often?
  3. Will your children observe religious holidays? Which ones? Is any greater detail on this subject needed in your Parenting Plan?
  4. Will there be any special religious celebration that requires your planning?

Medication and Other Professional Appointments

  1. How will medical decision-making be made in an emergency?
  2. Who will be responsible for arranging regularly scheduled doctors’ and dentists’ appointments?
  3. How will you communicate about illness? Minor medical decisions? Major medical decisions? Emergencies?
  4. How can you assure that you both have access to the children’s doctors and other health care professionals for verbal communication?
  5. How can you assure that you both have access to medical and educational records?

Extended Family Access

Do you need to include in the Parenting Plan any provisions for extended family members’ access to the children (for example, grandparents)?

Care by Others

Do you need to include in the Parenting Plan any provisions for selecting caretakers?

Significant Others and Dating

  1. Do you need provisions in the Parenting Plan about how to introduce new significant others to the children?
  2. What about overnights with significant others present? Should they exist? If so, when should they begin?
  3. What about defining the role of significant others with your children?
  4. What about defining the role of people with whom you may have short-term relationships?

Special Needs

  1. Does a child have a disability that requires special consideration in the Parenting Plan?
  2. Does a child have a chronic medical condition that needs planning?

Further Conflict Resolution

Do you want to discuss a method of resolving conflicts in the future? If so, here are some issues to consider:

  • Would you like to build in a discussion between yourselves as a first step?
  • Do you want to consider consulting a child care expert in the event you disagree between yourselves?
  • Do you want mediation to be part of a normal procedure if you are unable to reach agreement by yourselves? Or would you rather be able to return directly to court if there is a significant disagreement?
  • If you have a lot of parental conflict, do you want to consider hiring a Parenting Coordinator (someone to make recommendations about any issue you can’t resolve on your one)?
Mark Berson Attorney at Law