It may not seem important to address right now, particularly if you have an infant, but you'll be wise to include a section on how exceptions to the parenting schedule will be handled.
WHAT TAKES PRIORITY?
- Fights between parents can occur when a parent is entitled to spend July 4 with the children, but the other parent has the children for vacation. Or when a child's birthday occurs during Spring Break.
- Therefore, include a clause in your parenting plan that specifies what type of custodial time takes priority, in the event of a schedule conflict. It's commonly language akin to, "In the event of a schedule conflict, the order of priority is special days, then holidays, then vacation time, and then the normal parenting schedule."
- It's most often the case that parents have equal vacation time with the kids. Think about what amount of time and flexibility is needed to take the annual camping trip, visit grandma, go to Disneyland or Sea World, etc. Two weeks per year? Three weeks per year?
- Once you decide upon the amount of vacation, lay out the language for how the vacation periods will be determined:
- It can be fixed dates, which is easiest: "Mother shall exercise vacation with the children from 9am on June 15 to 9am on June 29 every year. Father shall exercise vacation with the children, from 9am on July 15 to 9am on July 29 every year."
- It can be flexible dates, which requires language on how the selection occurs: "Each parent shall have 3 consecutive weeks of vacation (not to exceed 21 days, including regular custodial time) in June, July, or August. By April 30 in even years (e.g., 2006), father shall provide written notice to mother of his vacation start/end times. By May 15 in even years, mother shall provide written notice to father of her vacation start/end times. In odd years (e.g., 2007), the selection order is reversed (i.e., mother picks first)."
- If you wish, vacation can also be nonconsecutive periods of time, but make sure to outline language that the vacation can only be used in chunks of a week at a time. Unless otherwise specified, devious parents will take "3 weeks of vacation time" and chop it up into days -- or even hours -- which will create chaos for you and the children.
- Make a list of all the holidays during the year that you'd like to spend with your children. It may include July 4, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Easter, Yom Kippur, Mother's Day, Father's Day, New Years Eve, New Years Day, Labor Day, etc.
- Note: spring break and winter break are generally considered holiday time that should be outlined in your parenting plan.
- On your list, specify a reasonable start time and end time of each holiday. E.g., 9am to 7pm on Mother's Day. Or 4pm to 9pm on Halloween. Or Wednesday at 9am through Sunday at 6pm for Thanksgiving.
- Split the holidays roughly evenly into two groups (e.g., July 4 goes into one group, and Halloween goes into the other group). Then, above one group write, "Father has in even years, mother has in odd years." Above the other group write, "Father has in odd years, mother has in even years."
- This approach has the children spending a number of holidays with each parent every year, and the holidays alternate every other year.
- Note: Father's Day will always be with dad. Mother's day will always be with mom.
- One other consideration: if you and the mother agree it would be nice to be able to have an annual tradition consistently in one home for any holidays, consider keeping one specific to each home. E.g., kids always join dad for Halloween, and they always spend New Years with mom.
- Parent's birthdays and children's birthdays are generally considered special days. Some parents throw Mother's Day and Father's Day into special days, rather than holidays. Most often, each parent always spends his/her birthday with the children (e.g., 12pm to 8pm). Most often, the parents alternate the years on the children's birthdays.
- If the parents don't cooperate too well, consider outlining that the parent who is with the child on the child's birthday in any given year is the parent who may host the child's birthday party (with friends) for that year. The parent not hosting the party shall be entitled to celebrate the birthday with family members.
NOTE: I've found what I consider to be two very good sources for high-quality parenting plans. One offers a set of downloadable plans that you can modify, the other lets you create a parenting plan online and modify it.
Both of the sites above have the same 'parent' company and have the same plans. The only difference is that the online version also lets you share revisions with guests (your ex, your attorney, etc). This may or may not be useful, depending on your circumstances.