General vs. Detailed Parenting Plans
Parenting plans can be either very detailed or very general. A detailed parenting plan is just want it sounds like – there will be a lot of detail about exact days, times of parenting exchanges, how summer vacation is scheduled, etc. A general parenting plan, on the other hand, may just say that one parent will have two overnights per week based on his or her work schedule, and that both parents will work together to figure out holidays on an as-needed basis. Different states have different requirements about the minimum amount of detail that must be included in a parenting plan. In Oregon, ORS 107.102 provides that a parenting plan just needs to set out the minimum amount of parenting time that each parent will have.
Pros and cons of each approach.
There are pros and cons to both of these types of parenting plans. The main “pro” of a general parenting plan is that it builds in a high degree of flexibility, which many parents prefer. Another benefit is that you don’t have to worry about figuring out all of the different details of your parenting plan; by definition a general parenting plan does not address all of the various details that you would find in a specific plan. The main “con” of a general parenting plan – and this is significant – is that if you cannot agree on something, what are you going to do? For example, if your parenting plan says you will “work together” to determine holidays, what will you do if you can’t agree on Labor Day this year?
The main “pro” of a specific parenting plan is that all of the terms are spelled out so you know exactly what the parenting plan is at all times. This (hopefully) serves to reduce disagreements regarding scheduling because everyone knows what the parenting plan is in every situation. The main “con” is that a highly detailed approach may be too rigid for some people and actually lead to further disagreements.
Which one is right for you?
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether to use a general or detailed parenting plan. The first question to answer is what kind of working relationship do you have with the other parent? Be honest! Do you work well together? Do you disagree about whether the sun is shining or not? If you work well together, a general parenting plan may work well for you. If you disagree on everything, you probably need a more detailed parenting plan. If you have a high conflict relationship, then you almost certainly need a detailed parenting plan.
Another thing to consider is how long you have been separated and how things have gone so far. If you’ve been separated for six months and have established a routine, that should tell you a lot about what type of parenting plan you need. If you’ve been able to “figure it out”, then a general plan may work well for you. If you’ve been flexible with each other over time, you probably will continue to be flexible with each other. If there is constant disagreement about days or times of exchanges, then a specific parenting plan probably makes more sense.
Another thing to consider is that even though co-parenting might be going well right now, it is at least possible that things might be difficult later on. If that happens, it may be helpful to have a more detailed parenting plan.
You can always be flexible.
You can think of your parenting plan as a “baseline”, i.e., your parenting plan is what you will do unless you reach some different agreement. Even with the most detailed parenting plan, you can still do something different if both of you agree. Your parenting plan should address modifications to the parenting plan. For example, your parenting plan might say that any permanent changes must be agreed to in writing, but one time changes can be agreed to verbally. Of course, if you cannot agree, then the terms of the parenting plan will determine what is going to happen.
A hybrid approach.
If a general approach is appealing but you are concerned about running into disagreements later on, a hybrid approach may be worth considering. In a hybrid approach, sometimes called a Plan A/Plan B” approach, you have a general “Plan A” and a more specific “Plan B”. This approach can apply to your general schedule, your vacation schedule or your holiday schedule (e.g., it might just apply to your vacation schedule and the rest of your parenting plan is a set schedule).
Here is an example of how a hybrid approach might work for holidays:
- Holidays. The parents are awarded a “Plan A/Plan B” holiday schedule.
- General Holiday Schedule. Both parents are desirous of a holiday schedule which provides maximum flexibility to both of them, so that each might have holiday parenting time with the children when they will be best able to take advantage of the time. It is anticipated that the parents will be able to work together and work out a mutually advantageous schedule on an ad hoc basis. However, if either party feels that this flexible, non-specific holiday schedule is not working effectively, he or she may unilaterally decide that the Alternate Holiday Schedule detailed below shall go into effect
- Alternate Holiday Schedule. If the parties fail to reach agreement on a flexible, non-specific holiday plan, or if either party decides such agreement is not working effectively, this alternate general holiday schedule shall go into effect. Under this alternate schedule the parties shall have holiday parenting time as follows:
- The terms of this Alternate Holiday Schedule will need to be negotiated and will be inserted here.
This approach can provide the best of both worlds for co-parents. It provides a high degree of flexibility but it also takes into account situations where you cannot reach an agreement. Sometimes people don’t want to take the time to develop a specific Plan B. However, a specific Plan B is necessary for this type of parenting plan.
So what type of parenting plan should you choose?
The most important thing is to focus on what is best for your children. A parenting plan that minimizes conflict between co-parents will be better for your kids then one that could contribute to conflict. With that in mind, if one parent prefers a specific plan and the other prefers a general plan, it probably makes sense to either have a specific or a hybrid type of parenting plan. If both parents feel like a general parenting plan will work, then it’s probably a safe bet that it will.
Regardless of the parenting plan you choose, be aware that parenting plans are always subject to modification. If you don’t get it quite right the first time, you can always modify the parenting plan in the future.