Children of divorce are always hit hard by the emotional turmoil that is created – even if the split is amicable. However, the reality is that most dissolutions are not harmonious, leaving the kids with battle scars and lots of questions about divorce. Concerned parents can do a lot to mitigate some of the damage, including developing an effective co-parenting plan. And, believe it or not, this will help you both to become better parents.

NOLO’s Building a Parenting Agreement That Works, provides real world solutions to common parenting issues, and can be used with or without professional help. It provides many different types of worksheets designed to fit your family’s specific dynamics. These are the first five basic elements that will help provide a structure for a parenting agreement:

1. Where the Children Will Live

Start with deciding if the children will have one primary residence or alternate homes. Many families feel that it’s best to have one home as the primary residence and then alternate weekends and holidays. If you decide to have dual residences so the children can spend equal amounts of time with each parents, this will require extensive coordination between the parents. There are lots of variations that enable this type of arrangement to work out.

2. Medical, Dental and Vision Care

Decide who your children’s healthcare providers will be, who has the authority to make medical decisions, how information will be shared between parents, and who will take the children for routine care. There should also be a plan for emergency situations that include medical releases or restrictions.

3. Negative Comments or Remarks

Both parents should agree to refrain from making negative comments about the other parent or the other parent’s partner around the children. This only creates confusion and resentment making it hard for parents and children to bond during this difficult process.

4. Consistency in Raising Children

Parents needs to be as consistent as possible by having similar discipline standards. Establish common rules for both households, and try to communicate with one another about your children’s behavior and disciplinary issues.

5. Holidays

Balancing the holidays with your ex can be challenging and difficult if you don’t plan ahead. Consider alternating on an even-year, odd-year basis with kids alternating which year they spend Christmas, Thanksgiving and other holidays with each parent. Other alternatives are to divide the holidays in half or celebrate important holidays twice. Parents can also develop a fixed holiday schedule if each prefers to celebrate different holidays. This arrangement may work well if the parents have different or non-religious preferences.

In Part 2 of the Basic Elements of a Parenting Agreement, we discuss how to incorporate decisions about the children’s education, insurance, making decisions, resolving disputes, and custody arrangements.

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