Co-Parenting and Making Parenting Plans When Communication is Difficult

For many years my friends have been sending me their friends who are going through a divorce, often telling them, “you have to talk to my friend Kendra when you are making your Parenting Plan!  Hers is genius!” 

While I’m not sure I’m a genius, I do have quite a bit of experience in putting together my parenting plan, and 2 revisions of it, and helping friends create theirs.  I have a particular knack for looking forward to the future, and envisioning where certain pitfalls may come up, and thus eliminating them before they happen.  

So I want to share some tips with you that you might find helpful, especially if the relationship with your ex is strained and/or communication with the other person is hard.

When I first got divorced, my kids were little (2.5, 6, 7 years old) and I lived in the same town as my ex.  At the very beginning we tried swapping kids at my house in the evening.  That was hard on everyone.  I personally didn’t like having to see him.  The kids could feel the tension there.  Going from the rules at one house to the rules at the other house was hard on the kids and it seemed like they always needed 24 hours to fully adjust to being home.  Having a 60/40 split of time meant there was a lot of time “adjusting” for the kids.  Simply put, this arrangement wasn’t working for any of us.

So what we started doing instead was “trading kids” at daycare.  On the days they were done at my house I would drop them off at daycare in the morning.  The kids would spend the day at school and daycare, and then their dad would pick them up after he was off work.  Similarly when the kids were coming back to me, he would drop them off in the morning, and I would pick them up from daycare.

Being able to be at school and/or daycare, their known, safe places, in between parents’ houses was very calming and regulating for the kids.  It didn’t take them 24 hours to adjust to being home anymore.  Every day felt like a routine and calm for all of us.  So if it is an option for you to trade at school or daycare, I personally highly recommend that option.

Communicating with my ex was very difficult and frustrating for me.  I got the advice early on to only communicate with him via text or email,so that everything was provable and more emotion could be taken out of it.  When I waited to respond, I was also better able to think clearly, instead of knee jerk reactions when we were talking on the phone or in person.  So whenever possible, I highly recommend keeping all communication written.

It was very difficult to get my ex to reply to emails in a timely manner.  The fact that we had shared decision making responsibilities, but I couldn’t get him to respond on important topics, was driving me batty.  So I added time limits to the original parenting plan, in which he had to respond to certain topics.  If he didn’t respond in the given time frame, it was a “3 strikes you’re out” kind of deal, where he’d lose decision making power in that area after failing to respond in that time frame 3 times.  It was 24 hours for medical issues, and 72 hours for school, financial or logistical/calendar planning.  With these parameters in place, all of a sudden communication was consistent.  

Whether it is boundaries around communication, or something else in your parenting plan, having the consequence clearly written into the plan can be very helpful in enforcing it.  So if there is something specific to your family that you want to make sure is enforceable, make sure to include the consequence in your plan’s wording.

If it’s important to you, don’t back down.  The final thing for us to agree on in mediation, meaning the thing that we couldn’t agree on, and would have sent us in front of a judge, was something that was very important to me.  I wanted included in our plan that ANY firearms, including airsoft rifles, were kept locked up when the children were in the home.  Now my ex didn’t own any firearms, but his brother did own airsoft rifles, and our kids were young.  I didn’t want them finding them, and accidentally hurting themselves or others.  

My ex was refusing to have it in there because they weren’t his, and he thought I’d bust into his house anytime I wanted to make sure they were locked up.  I let him know that I would not personally be enforcing this, but that it meant he was 100% responsible for the children’s safety at his home, and if they were ever injured because of an unlocked firearm, he would be charged and arrested.  He tried to fight this being in the plan until the very end, and I wanted it in there and was not budging.  The mediator finally told him that he had a right to take this in front of a judge if he wanted, but that he didn’t know of a single judge in our state that would side with him requesting to not lock up firearms around small kids.  So he had to agree.  I don’t know if he ever locked them up, but I felt good knowing that I had done what I could to protect the kids when they weren’t with me.

Even if your ex has been pretty chill during the divorce process and making of the parenting plan, and it seems like you two can just work it out, and you have the thought to not include “all the things” in your parenting plan, I HIGHLY SUGGEST that you include them anyways.  Look, if you two both agree to just do your own thing and make other decisions after the divorce is final, no one is coming after you to enforce the parenting plan.  The plan is there to protect you if/when you two aren’t agreeing, you have something to fall back on that is enforceable.  I’ve seen many manipulative exes appear to get along during the divorce proceedings, and convince their partners not to have a very detailed parenting plan because “they can get along and just decide together” and then have them totally change and create hell for their exes because they can, and there is no plan in place to fall back on.

Your parenting plan is meant to last until your kids are 18!  If your kids are only tiny humans at the time of your divorce it can seem overwhelming to think ahead until they are teens, and you simply might have no idea on what to include for their older years.  However, do yourself a favor, and really think ahead, and talk to someone who has older kids with a parenting plan, and include things like sports, drivers ed, dating, high school extra curricular activities and such so that you only have to do this work once. Otherwise, especially with couples who have a hard time communicating, you’re likely to run into lots of fights as the kids age and there are situations that aren’t included in the parenting plan, and it could turn into a costly legal battle later. Better to get it all in the plan in the first place!

Make sure to include wording as to what happens if one of you moves away.  My original parenting plan was written assuming we were both living in the same city and it was easy to trade kids at the daycare/school.  However, I also included wording as to what would happen to the plan if one or both of us moved away and the current plan was no longer feasible.  These plans are meant to last until the youngest child turns 18.  However, we all know life happens and changes and there very well might be need for revisions.

In my case there have been 2 needs for revisions.  The first time was when I remarried, and the kids and I moved 3 hours away.  So we revised parts of the parenting plan.  The second time we needed revisions was when my ex moved a couple states away, and our plan needed further revisions.  In these instances, only revise the parts that need it, and leave the other parts as they are.

Is your ex someone who wants to feel like they have “won” the argument?  Yes, my ex too.  Knowing this there were a few things I added to the parenting plan, or extended, knowing he would not want them worded that way.  When it came time to negotiations I didn’t have to “settle” as much because I had built in bargaining chips. I really didn’t have to give up that much, because I had built in items to gladly let go.  If your ex likes to win the argument or have the final word, go ahead and ask for more than you actually want so you have things to easily give up.

You and your kids are worth fighting for.  I know how exhausting it can be to write up parenting plans, try to communicate with your ex, and go through the divorce process.  (I’m twice divorced, but only one divorce included kids.)  In the end, I promise it is worth the energy it takes to fight for what is best for your kids.  It can seem like a losing battle, especially when you are divorcing a narcissist, someone with a particularly aggressive lawyer, or who is aggressive and manipulative themselves.  Hang in there, the fight doesn’t last forever.

Make sure you take care of your own mental health!  I highly suggest you work with a life coach or therapist while you write your parenting plan and go through the divorce process.  Alone, the whole process can feel confusing, overwhelming, and downright crazy-making sometimes.  Having someone in your corner who can help you keep your mind clear and focused can help you feel resilient and strong!  I love helping my clients navigate this time, and make parenting plans that work well for them.  I’m here to help you too if you want help!

Help is only a click away.  Use THIS LINK to schedule your complimentary consultation call with me, to see just how helpful coaching will be for you as you navigate your divorce.  I will help empower you to make the best decisions for you and your kids, and I will help you think ahead for the future so you hopefully never have to revise your parenting plan.

I look forward to meeting you soon.  See you on our consultation call.  I promise you’ll be glad you did, and you’ll be able to make a clear decision for yourself on what your future is going to look like!  Kendra

If this story has resonated with you, and you’d like help finding your own emotional freedom, I’d love to help you.  I have devoted my Life Coaching practice to helping people just like you find the freedom and happiness after betrayal or divorce.  Schedule a complimentary consultation call HERE to see if this is the right time for you to hire a Life Coach.  Taking this step will change your life.  Schedule your call today!

Want more stories to read like this?  Never miss a new blog post by providing your email address HERE and you’ll get a notification every time a new blog post goes live.  And you will get my 5 Free Journaling Prompts Guide too.

You can also go to my Facebook page and follow me HERE.

*Nothing contained in this article is not legal advice.  I am sharing some tips from things I’ve learned in writing my own parenting plan and revisions.  If you are looking for legal advice, contact a licensed attorney where you live.*  

Want to never miss a blog post?

Click below to add your email and get a notification every time a new blog post goes up. And you will get my free 5 journaling prompts too.

Share this post

Kendra Last Avatar

My name is Kendra Last

I’m a life coach and author of the book Journaling to Recovery: A Reference Guide to Healing from Betrayal Trauma. I have been working in the betrayal recovery world for almost a decade. I’ve been there, and I will help you let go of the pain of the past, help you recognize your own inner beauty and strength, and help you learn to celebrate yourself again.

Enter your name and email to get this FREE journaling guide.

Please read my privacy policy to see I take your privacy seriously.