Parenting Plans Are Not Written in Stone

by Brette Sember

gavelThink your court ordered parenting plan is something you're stuck following forever? Think again.

When you go to court and are given a parenting or visitation plan, it is because you were unable to reach an agreement yourselves. You couldn't work it out, so the court had to work it out for you. Although the judge had to step in and make a decision for you about how you're going to parent together, the judge and the court really don't want to be a constant presence in your life. The ultimate goal is for you and your ex to be able to make changes to and adjust the parenting plan as needed. The legal system wants you to become self-sufficient.

The Plan Is Flexible

Too many families think that the plan they are given by the court can never be changed, or only changed by the court. This is completely false. In fact, the plan should just be a starting place for you. Anything you can both agree to in the future should become your plan. You aren't bound to this plan for the rest of your lives.

The parenting plan the court gave you is meant to be adjusted and adapted by you and your ex as your child grows and changes, and as your own lives change as well. If you have to run back to court every time you want to make a change to the plan, you're going to get very tired of sitting in courthouse waiting rooms and you're also going to go broke if you use attorneys.

Learn to Work Together

The ultimate goal is for you and your ex to learn to work together. Court should be your last ditch alternative. If you're going to function together as parents, you need to learn how to make decisions together, accommodate each other's needs, and adapt to your child's changing needs and abilities.

Too many parents think that their parenting plan is like a law. It isn't meant to be something you follow blindly forever. In fact, most parenting plan orders contain language such as "visitation at other times as agreed upon by the parties" that encourages parents to go ahead and make other plans.

A custody order should be a starting point. It's a good way to get things pulled together in the middle of a crisis, however you should not live in an ongoing crisis state. A divorce is a crisis, and a court order gives some order to your life and points the way for future parenting. However, you and your ex must find a way to parent together cooperatively once the trauma of the divorce has simmered down a bit. This means taking control of your parenting plan, altering it together and shaping plans for the future together.

If You Can't Agree

If you and your ex can't agree on anything ever, you might be one of the exceptions to the rule. There are some parents who are never able to communicate or work together. These are the families that unfortunately must return to court again and again for modifications. If you and your ex are having difficulty working things out, try mediation before going back to court -- it's cheaper and more reasonable.

Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of:

Learn more about Brette on her web site.