Tips for developing a successful co-parenting plan

A parenting plan that seems unfairly skewed to one parent may give a judge pause and a reason to ask how the plan was developed.

In Michigan, family courts prefer for both parents to remain in the lives of their children (absent extreme circumstances, of course). What this means for separating or divorcing couples is that a judge is more likely to sign off on a parenting plan if it appears fair and to consider the best interests of the children.

Seek the help of an outside party

Separation, whether the couple was married or not, is often an emotional time. Thus, it can be difficult for two parents to marshal the emotional distance necessary to hammer out a comprehensive and fair parenting plan by themselves. Often, it is best for them to seek outside assistance such as a counselor, meditator or lawyer to help develop the parenting plan.

Agree on the goal up front

It also helps for both parents to agree on the goal of the parenting plan up front: to create a plan that best serves their children. The aim is not for one parent to win or to deny the other parent time; it is simply to do what is best for the kids. Sacrifices, whether emotional, financial or both, will likely have to be made by both parents in the name of compromise. Both parents should recognize the value the other parent brings to the lives of the children.

Start with "easy" issues

Often, successes breed further successes, so it can help to start parenting plan talks with "easy" issues. Of course, what is "easy" varies from family to family, but a place to start could be that the children get to be with Mom for Mother's Day weekend and with Dad for Father's Day weekend, and that when the children are with one parent, they have the ability to contact their other parent at any time through email or phone as they want. (Same-sex couples might prefer to alternate odd-numbered and even-numbered years for Mother's Day and Father's Day, or have the children be with one parent on Saturday and the other on Sunday.)

Decide on legal and physical custody

One issue that needs to be resolved early on is who gets legal and/or physical custody. It can be both parents or one parent; one parent can even have physical custody and the other legal custody. Legal custody is when one parent has the authority to make, say, medical and educational decisions. Physical custody is where the children spend their time. It is common for both parents to have physical and legal custody.

Parenting plans in Michigan are wide-ranging and cover many issues. An attorney can help ensure that a plan covers all the bases.