When I was working through the initial stages of divorce and needed to do a parenting plan with my ex, I had a hard time finding what elements should even be included in the plan itself. Later, I was advised by a domestic violence expert, that when dealing with a person like my ex – aggressive, boundaryless, abusive, controlling, manipulative, entitled, who sees the children as pawns and pieces of property – that the plan should be as detailed as possible. In a situation with two emotionally & mentally healthy adults who are working together to do what is best for the children, the plan doesn’t need the detail because the adults can work together as normal people do. That said, let me lay out the different pieces of a plan and some things to think about. Note, though, that I plan to update this as other things come to mind or my awareness. I’m also aware that there are sooo many factors at play during divorce that may or not make it even feasible to have a choice or opportunity to make decisions about the elements below. Sometimes, there’s not even the opportunity to have a discussion about putting the detail in place (which is for the sake of the children involved). Legal custody
Legal custody aspects involve decisions regarding: religion, education, emergency and non-emergency medical care,
Narcissist considerations: Having legal or joint legal custody may feel necessary to a personality disordered parent for a variety of reasons: to preserve their image, to satisfy borderline needs and avoid rejection or being alone, or as an avenue for power and control over the other parent.
This definition may vary by state and local, but essentially points to the parent whom the child/childen resides with the most.
Narcissist considerations: Residential custody concerns for the narcissist may strike the same cords as legal custody. It is also, as well as visitation, a way to take the kids from the other parent for retribution. It may also trigger the feeling or need to be “fair” and “50/50”, as narcissistic personality traits are often approaching life in a “you vs. me” mentality and are cut-throat competitive in that regard. If there are ways in which you can negotiate away other divorce items (like the house, car, child support or other property), in order to gain legal, residential or the children to be with you the majority of the time – do so as fast as humanly possible!
Be as concrete and definitive as possible in the parenting plan when dealing with a personality disordered ex. A narcissist has logic that can turn at whim to fit their needs, and will incessantly look to change the schedule to whatever fits him/her. Whatever you can do to have the schedule be so that a police officer or other legal person can interpret from the custody order alone where the child/children should be at any given time… the better. This is essential to your sanity as well as a legal defense when your ex accuses you of having the children when they think you shouldn’t, or when they have the children and they shouldn’t.
Things to consider: Holidays, Monday holidays (like Columbus Day), teacher work days, summer vacation, what date the summer vacation should be worked out by, who picks their dates for summer first (perhaps alternate), providing all travel & itinerary information, if the holiday or vacation schedule overrides the regular schedule, and how does that work.
- Cancellations / Emergencies:
There is a statement in my court order which states “baring an emergency, each party shall give the other forty-eight (48) hours advance notice of cancellation or change in the ability of a party to have the children during their custodial time.” I know other parents have similar phrases either about exercising or cancelling visitation time. Chance are, you won’t get the notice as outlined, but it is good to have it outlined anyway.
- Make up time for cancellations:
If the non-custodial parent cancels visitation time – is it necessary to make up for that missed time? Personally, I am thankful that there is no provision for make up time for my children’s father missing visitation time. Nonetheless, I still have to consider what the court’s reaction will be as my ex will be very blaming and get everyone feeling sorry for him if I don’t make sure he makes up any missed time. However, it does still afford me the ability to tell my ex “no” for makeup time.
- Exchange Location & who’s responsible for driving them there
Considerations: Specifically note where the children will be exchanged and who is responsible for driving them there. Should you include provisions for whether one parent moves further away? There may be some state requirements regarding advance notification if a parent is going to move.
I think it is also important to write into the agreement a required notice of where the children will be spending the night, (72 hours advance) if different than the residence of the parent. It is a slight inconvenience for you when you want to take the kids somewhere else, but it is peace of mind when your ex does and you’ll know where they are.
- Right of First Refusal & Babysitters
The basic premise is that if a parent has the child in their care and has to place the child in another person’s care for a specified amount of time (perhaps other than daycare), than the other parent has the “right of first refusal”. Meaning – they are offered / allowed to care for the child/children if they would like, and if they can’t, only then is alternate care used. There are pros/cons about this. If it is used – there should be very specific aspects outlined around the circumstances when this is enacted (e.g. number of hours alternate care is needed, whether camp, daycare, a playdate or a sleepover with a friend is considered “alternate care”, how long the other person has to respond, the amount of notice given, etc).
Other things to consider: If your ex is putting them into another person’s care whom you deem unsafe or inappropriate, you have a means to keep that from happening. It’s another potential avenue for harassment from your ex (for e.g., your child wants to sleepover at a friend’s house who’s parents you trust – but your ex says that they should be allowed “right of first refusal”. The point is that the child wants to do a sleepover, not that you’re actually looking for alternate care).
Another aspect to consider is babysitting. Do you have any specifics which should be outlined in regards to the use of babysitters? Appropriate age of the babysitter? Length of time that the babysitter can care for them? Overnights? Should the babysitter have safety classes or CPR classes?
There may not be the ability to write this much detail into the plan, but here are things to consider. Also, the courts themselves often times see this as “different parenting styles” and a parent who wants to define this as “controlling” (when in fact it may be that they are trying to do so for protection). In a normal healthy divorce, it is good to work together to be consistent with how these things are done with the kids.
- Are safety classes or parenting classes necessary?
- Is the child/children small enough to require safety proofing in the home?
- What requirements or written restrictions would you like to see on discipline (corporal punishment?)
- What rules need to be the same between homes? (television, curfews, reactions to school misbehavior, homework)
- When is it okay to leave the child/ren alone, for how long?
- Should a child have a cell phone (at what age, who pays for it, who are they allowed to contact, etc).
Child’s well being
Things to consider: How much contact should the child/children have with the parent that they are not with at the time, who cares for the child when sick, if the child is sick and should be exchanged for visitation or custody – are there times when they should stay where they are?,
Also consider how quickly you need the other parent to respond when they are caring for the children and when they aen’t. (narcissists are infamous for not answering phone calls as a means to control),
Parental well being
In this category, I am thinking about including items into the court order, parenting plan or parenting agreement which specifically addresses harassment or harassing behaviors between the parents, stalking by either parent, showing up unannounced at either residence, amount of contact between parents, etc. If a parent has a protective order but the children still have visitation, then how to handle a whole host of things will need to be considered.
Each state has specific criteria and guidelines for child support. In some places, there is a lot which can be considered. In others, it’s basically a calculation without much room for negotiation. Costs beyond what’s included in child support which should be considered include: medical expenses, Therapy/emotional expenses, child care while working or going to school (if this isn’t included into a basic child support calculation), college.
Moving /moving out of state
If you are going to move or your ex is, what do you want to have in place? Many states may have certain requirements already outlined. Considerations will include: providing notice of a move, how it impacts the visitations/parenting schedule and who compensates if it changes the commute for exchanges.
Parent coordination, mediators, communication:
If you have a parent coordinator – consider: how often do you meet, is it in person or on the phone, what is the rate, how is the cost shared, how are emergency situations handled