If you think divorce is hard on you, imagine what it is like for your children. They will no longer be sharing a home with the two people who have cared and provided for them their entire lives.

The most important part of a divorce is seeing to the needs of your children. A solid parenting plan can ease the trauma during the most difficult time of their young lives.

What is a parenting plan?

A plan – or “custody and visitation agreement” – is a court order written in the interests of your children. Children fare better when both of their parents are active in their lives. The agreement preserves relationships between parents and their children.

The plan provides a schedule for when you and your ex will have custody. It also outlines how you make decisions about health, education and many other issues.

A successful plan caters to the needs of each individual child; one plan does not cover every child. Flexibility is another key, so you can make adjustments when, for example, a child is ill.

What should be in your parenting plan?

The most difficult decision with any plan revolves around what to include – or, rather – what to exclude. It is safest to cover as much territory as possible to avoid confusion and conflict.

The list is as long or short as the parents decide. Some key areas include:

  • Physical custody
  • Legal custody
  • Holidays, birthdays and other special occasions
  • Education
  • Travel
  • Religion
  • Medical and dental care
  • Parental communication

A family law dispute with your spouse can turn ugly fast. The trick is balancing the desires of both parents and those of your children.

What your parenting plan means for the future

Always keep in mind that the lifelong well-being of your children is at stake during your divorce. Everything else – money, the house, marital property – is secondary.

A well-crafted parenting plan can become a loving legacy. Your children may not recognize it now, but someday they will know what you did for them.