Annual vacations and school breaks. The parenting plan needs to include details about how the children will be involved with each parent's vacation time and how the parents will be involved with kids on breaks from school. This can be a divisive issue between parents if it is not addressed in advance and both parents understand the ground rules.
Social activities and school functions. Will both parents come separately to every school play and sports event, or will these be split? Which parent makes the call when a child wants to go on a first date? Who gets involved in proms, dances, graduation parties and the like. Defining these issues become an important part of any parenting plan.
Communications and decision making. Most parenting plans define a regular schedule for both parents to communicate with each other about the children's lives and decision making. In the case of joint legal custody, this becomes even more important. But even if one parent has legal custody and the other is less involved, there will certainly be times when the non-custodial parent will care about something. Defining this relationship carefully is one of the primary functions of a parenting plan.
Contact with relatives and others. In every family, there are considerations needed for others than just the children and parents. If this is not carefully considered, grandparents, aunts and uncles or future spouses of the parents can disrupt even the best relationships. Consider in the parenting plan how to handle the desires of other family members relative to the children, and how to address the children's desires to interact with them.
Relocation. At times, even though it is not really good for the children, one or the other parent may find themselves in a situation where they need to relocate away from the other parent. The parenting plan should contemplate this possibility and work through issues like visitation, child support, legal custody decisions and costs of travel.
Dispute resolution processes. A good parenting plan, as comprehensive as it may be, simply cannot anticipate every contingency. And even the most cooperative parents will not always agree. Defining how disputes will be resolved is essential in any parenting plan. Do you both agree to mediate any disputes? Who will mediate? How can the parents change the parenting plan?
As John and Carol learned, a good, comprehensive parenting plan is vital to the continuing relationship between children and their unmarried parents. Careful consideration of the parenting plan up front will take away much of the stress later as parents try to raise their children in separate households.