The over-arching theme of co-parenting is that “things change” — kids get older, change schools, you and/or your co-parent remarry, you move to a new neighborhood and, all the while, your Parenting Plan is safely tucked away in a file cabinet, becoming an outdated old clunker of a plan.
As we like to say in family law practice, the best Parenting Plans set out “fall back” positions, are filed with the Court, thrown in a drawer, and never see the light of day again … because you and your co-parent are raising your kids and working together as family members should. Even in the best co-parenting relationships, situations sometimes arise that will have you digging around looking for that dusty old legal document to figure out what to do next. And then, when you find it, you may be surprised to find that it says something you didn’t expect or doesn’t say anything at all about your new situation.
Here are a few common scenarios that we see and I have outlined them for you so you can think about whether or not your Parenting Plan may need a tune-up.
- Babies became teens: If your Parenting Plan was written for wee ones and your babies are now in driver’s ed, it’s likely that your parenting arrangements, vacations, and holiday plans have all changed, too. Maybe your Parenting Plan was concerned with day care, but now should be addressing curfews and college choices. Definitely time for a tune-up!
- Blended families and Parenting Plans: It’s a few years down the road and now you have yours, his, ours, and theirs. How do you schedule a vacation with three competing Parenting Plans in play? What happens to the Spring Break now that your co-parent’s spouse has their own kids and Parenting Plan added to the mix? Probably time for a tune-up!
- New families and half-sibs: You’re remarried, have a sweet new baby, and want to make sure that your children have a good bonding experience with their new half-sibling. The problem is that your existing Parenting Plan allocated all weekends to your co-parent because of a crazy work schedule. It might be time for a tune-up!
- Teens leave the nest: Your kids are launching right on schedule. Does your Parenting Plan or Decree provide for college expenses? Rather than assume that your documents will provide a clear path to follow, consider the fact that orders regarding emancipated children are unenforceable and any agreements as to college tuition must be designated as contract provisions. Is there past-due child support still owing? You’ll want to make sure to request and/or enforce those past due amounts sooner rather than later. Absolutely time for a tune-up!
- Lots of little changes: Your kids have changed schools and you’re living in a new neighborhood, but the Parenting Plan still calls for the children to be exchanged at the old school or by getting off the school bus at your old house. Soccer is out, but tennis and tutoring is in. You used to parent on a 5-2-2-5 plan, but converted to week on / week off when the kids entered junior high. It might be time for a tune-up, just to set the record straight.
So what IS a Parenting Plan Tune-up?
It is essentially a modification of your Parenting Plan or orders to reflect the reality of what is happening in your children’s lives and to memorialize all of the little changes that have happened to your plan over the years.
It is not a wholesale overhaul of your parenting time or custody (unless you both agree).
It is an opportunity to sit down with your co-parent and explore how you can make the plan fit your lives better and address your kids’ best interests as much as possible.
It is not a chance to criticize your co-parent’s choice of spouse / house / lifestyle / parenting ability / haircut.
It is an opportunity to talk with one another about how future expenses like cars and college will be handled. It’s never too late to start saving for those types of expenses, so talk to your investment advisor, or call our colleagues, Charles Scott,Pelleton Capital Management, or Jim Dew, Dew Wealth Management, for more information about education savings plans.
If you think your Parenting Plan is due for a tune-up, give us a call and schedule an appointment to review your plan, preferably with your co-parent!
Parent Peacefully ~ it’s better for your kids!