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Beware of Leaving Too Much Wiggle Room in Your Parenting Plan

Jennifer Tobkin
June 18, 2020

Almost all couples who divorce when their children are minors find that agreeing on a co-parenting schedule and a framework for child-related decision making after the divorce is much more challenging than dividing the couple’s financial assets in an equitable way. Pennsylvania law has designed a parenting plan template that enables former couples to provide their children with a stable relationship with both parents, whether or not the parents can communicate well with each other. Every parenting plan is unique, just like every family; some simply specify which days the children are with which parent and say something vague about how parents will cooperate about decision-making, but others are dozens of pages long and hash out every detail about teacher planning days, school sports, and orthodontics, among other minutiae. When drafting a parenting plan, it is always better to err on the side of being too specific; it is better to have too much detail in your parenting plan than too little.

When to Be Flexible with Parenting Plans

Your parenting plan should contain a detailed schedule of where the children will be on weekdays, weekends, summer vacation, and shorter breaks during the school year. You can even have the children spend the same holiday with different parents in alternating years; for example, they can spend Thanksgiving with Mom and Christmas with Dad in odd-numbered years, but spend Thanksgiving with Dad and Christmas with Mom in even-numbered years.

Your parenting plan is legally binding, but once you finalize it, the court will not micromanage. If you and your spouse mutually agree to deviate from the parenting plan, you are free to do so. For example, maybe Mom’s parents are visiting from overseas during Thanksgiving, even though it is technically Dad’s year for Thanksgiving. If Mom and Dad agree that the children will spend Thanksgiving break with Mom again this year, but that they will add four additional days to Dad’s parenting time, the court will neither find out nor object. Unexpected changes to plans, such as missed connecting flights that make the children return a day late from a trip with one parent, or business travel that makes one parent unavailable to take the children on his or her scheduled weekend, are not a problem. If your ex consistently fails to use his or her parenting time, though, you should go to court to modify or enforce the parenting plan.

How Much Flexibility Is Too Much?

Especially if your ex is flaky and constantly changes his or her plans, the parenting plan will back you up. For example, maybe when you were married, your spouse would say that she would pick up the children on an early release day, but then, 30 minutes before early release time, she would say she couldn’t make it because she was busy feeding the cats of a friend who was traveling. Parenting plans, where these kinds of plans are written into a legal agreement, prevent these sorts of conflicts. Likewise, if your ex is the sort to derail people’s plans at the last minute (such as calling you while you are on the way to the orthodontist for your daughter to get braces, because he just became convinced, thanks to a YouTube video, that braces cause cancer), then the parenting plan can specify which parent has the final decision about what. Figuring out all those details before conflicts arise is a lot of work, but it is easier than dealing with constant conflict with your ex-spouse because you didn’t develop a strategy in your parenting plan.

Iwanyshyn & Associates Drafts Conflict-Proof Parenting Plans

The biggest mistake you can make with a parenting plan is to finalize it without the input of a family law attorney. Contact Iwanyshyn & Associates in Greater Pittsburgh & Western PA for help with your parenting plan. 🡺 412-419-3448