Divorce or separation doesn’t delete a family.  As you embark on creating your parenting plan, keep in mind that the separation ends an intimate partnership for adults, not a family for children.

When we think about what’s best for kids, we think about a larger sense of home and family that includes two residences—a home with one parent and a home with the other. We envision parents providing day-to-day care, love, and structure in their own homes, continuing to coordinate, communicate, and problem-solve effectively on behalf of their children across both homes. And most importantly, we hope parents work through their feelings for each other enough that they can be present at their children’s special events, accomplishments and share important appointments without undue stress.

What Does a Parenting Plan Do?

The purpose of a parenting plan is to determine a somewhat predictable and consistent residential schedule for your children between two homes. It can include structure for ages of children from birth through preschool years, during their regular school schedule, summer and other school breaks, and holidays and special occasions.

In addition, it establishes protocols for decision making and conflict resolution, as well as addresses a myriad of other provisions unique to you and your family. A well drafted and thoughtful parenting plan can take the guess work out of navigating your new terrain of co-parenting in two households. Think of the parenting plan as the structure, agreements, and commitments that will enable you to maintain civility and stability for your children’s two-home family life. We often say that a parenting plan is the ‘default’, the conflict manager, the document you return to when you cannot agree and need structure and guidelines to keep the peace while life moves forward.

When Do You Need a Parenting Plan?

You will need a parenting plan when the nature of your intimate partnership changes through separation or divorce and your children will no longer be residing in only one household. You will also need a parenting plan if you have never lived together and do not intend to live together in one home while parenting and you want to establish a parenting plan as part of a paternity action. In most jurisdictions, this is a required document for completing a legal divorce.

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book THE PARENTING PLAN HANDBOOK. Originally posted on Kids Before Conflict.