Your Minnesota Parenting Plan is the contract that describes how you and your co-parent will handle the job of raising your children, now that you are divorced or separated. If done well, it can do far more than just outline who spends time with the children when. Here are some things you may want to consider having your parenting plan cover to make life easier for you and your children as they grow up.
In this blog post, I will explain what a Parenting Plan is and how it is used by the Minnesota Family Court. I will explain what can be included in a parenting plan, and why you may want to include more than just a overnight schedule in your agreed upon plan.
A parenting plan is a legal document, filed along with your divorce decree, that controls parents' co-parenting relationship after a divorce. In its simplest form, it sets the schedule for each parent to spend time with the children. But your parenting plan could cover far more.
Your right and ability to make decisions about your children's care and custody should be considered separately from issues of shared parenting time. These decisions are often called "legal custody". They include a parent's right to make important decisions about the child's health and medical treatment, education, and religion.
Your parenting plan can cover how legal custody decisions are made. It can designate a single go-to decision maker, or can require co-parents to come to consensus about their children's major life decisions before the action is taken. By including shared legal custody and even specifying areas of agreement, you can guide future decision-making and make sure both parents are given a say in these key areas.
A bare-bones Minnesota parenting plan can sometimes lead to confusion when it comes to parenting time exchanges or when mid-day custody issues arise. A parenting plan may be based on school drop-offs and pick-ups. But what happens when there isn't school? Or if a child is sick or has trouble at school? The ideal parenting plan will be specific about when parenting time switches from parent to parent, and won't leave any time unassigned.
There is no one ideal parenting plan for every case. Your family history, and your interactions with your co-parent may raise concerns in a wide variety of areas. An ideal parenting plan anticipates problem areas for your particular family and lays out a way to address them with respect and integrity. Here are a list of issues you may want your parenting plan to cover:
There may be reasons either parent may not be comfortable with parenting time exchanges happening at his or her home. Sometimes, the distance between the parents' homes may make it easier to use a mid-point exchange. In these cases, have your parenting plan cover where parenting time exchanges happen, as well as when.
In many cases, it is better for children to spend time with a parent instead of in child care even when it isn't his or her "turn". In these cases, parents agree that the on-duty parent will call the off-duty parent and give them the "right of first refusal" before contacting a babysitter or arranging for child care. This could also be limited to longer or overnight periods.
You may want to create a process for either parent to report when a child will be taken out of the state or to another country. This could be as simple as notifying the other parent of the travel itinerary. Or it could be more complex -- requiring prior consent or retrieving the child's passport from a trusted neutral party. The formality of the process will depend on how concerned the parents are with a child being taken overseas.
Many states, including Minnesota, also put limits on countries where parents can travel based on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In most cases, you will need written permission -- either from the other parent or the court -- before taking children to countries who have not agreed to participate in the treaty.
Children and parents benefit from open communication with one another, even during the other parent's scheduled time. In most cases, children should be allowed to communicate with their parents whenever they want. But sometimes, one parent's phone calls, video calls, or other communications can interfere with or frustrate the other parent's parenting time. In those cases, you may want to limit when and how an off-duty parent may initiate communication with the children.
The end of a relationship often means new romantic partners are on the horizon. But introducing new significant others to children too soon can cause them distress. If that relationship doesn't end up being successful, they may be confused or troubled by losing another adult from their lives. A parenting plan can describe when, and how, the introduction of significant others may happen, limit it to serious relationships, or require both parents to talk in advance, to avoid any surprises.
Do you use time outs or revoked privileges to punish your children? At what age should certain disciplines stop? Children often benefit from consistent discipline across different custodians, but as a co-parent you only have so much control over what happens during the other parent's time. If you and your co-parent have strong or different opinions over discipline, you may want your parenting plan to direct what is and is not acceptable punishment for bad behavior.
Sometimes, there are people in one or both parents' lives who are bad influence on the children. It may be a relative with a history of criminal behavior or child abuse, the stereotypical "drunk uncle", or someone who simply does not have the maturity to provide child care. If those people exist among your family, or your former in-laws, your parenting plan can put limits on contact with extended family or other poor role models.
Co-parents' lives can change after a divorce. They may accept new jobs or find new significant others that pull them away from the school district, or the state. Your parenting plan can cover what will happen if one parent moves away, or direct the parties to meet, possibly with a family dispute resolution facilitator, to work out a new parenting plan for after the move.
A Minnesota parenting plan covers more than just when you get parenting time with your children. If it is written well, it can anticipate and resolve potential disputes before they even come up. Your family law attorney or collaborative divorce professional can help you craft a thoughtful parenting plan that doesn't leave any gaps. Contact Kimberly to find out how a parenting plan can reduce stress and conflict between co-parents after a divorce.