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Co-Parenting Plan

Taking care of your kids' needs after a divorce or split is tough. But making sure you're on the same page as your ex is key. Here are eight areas to address.

Maybe you're fresh off a divorce – or you're struggling with a difficult ex. Whatever your situation, if you need help getting on the same page with your former spouse, creating a blueprint – literally – is paramount.

To ensure a peaceful transition into co-parenting, start by sitting down and writing out a co-parenting plan. Many states have formal co-parenting plans on their websites (Michigan offers a guide on establishing parenting time), but you can make a less-formal plan using these steps. Make sure you write everything down so if a problem arises in the future, you have a hard copy of the plan to refer to.

Step 1

Decide when the kids will spend time with each parent on a normal basis – and where "home base" is. This can be whatever the two of you decide. Even weeks at parent A's house, odd at parent B's; weekdays at parent A's, weekends at parent B's; etc. Write this step on your calendar so there is no confusion.

Step 2

Decide who will be responsible for major decisions such as education, non-emergency health, religious views, etc. If you decide to make these decisions together, write them down now so everything is clear.

Step 3

Make a plan for holidays, vacations, school breaks and three-day weekends. Many worksheets are available online to outline these decisions. Free co-parenting worksheets are at About.com, or you can buy a subscription to websites like OurFamilyWizard.com. Again, make sure to note these dates and places on your calendar.

Step 4

Define ground rules for bedtimes, homework/study habits, electronic access time (phone, computer, TV) and allowance. You want to ensure that all your child's responsibilities are being met at both parents' houses.

Step 5

Decide how to split financial support. For example, how will you divide the cost of school supplies, extracurricular activities, college savings, etc.?

Step 6

Decide if your child will keep clothes and other personal belongings at both houses or if they'll carry a suitcase between. If you decide to pack a bag each time you switch houses, set general guidelines for what should be in their bag.

Step 7

Determine how the exchange of your children will take place. Set specific times and places for pick up/drop off.

Step 8

Even if your child is young, decide on issues such as tattoos and piercings, curfew, dating, driving, etc.

Make sure both parties are in agreement on all the issues above, and sign your co-parenting plan. Make copies for each parent – and stick to the plan. Not everything can be planned for and things often come up, so if a snag hits and something goes wrong, take it in stride. Raising a child with split parents is a juggling act. Be flexible. If problems continue to arise, sit down again and revise your co-parenting plan.

Always remember that your child is just that: your child. Do not send messages through your child, always remain civilized in front of them, do not badmouth your ex-spouse in front of them, communicate often and listen to them if something in the plan isn't working.

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