Successful shared parenting – starting right

After having conversations with parents about how to manage children between two households, you soon realise that many parents are overwhelmed with what has to be discussed and organised with their ex to ensure everybody stays sane. An Australian support service, Relationships Australia, has produced a great parenting plan document that walks you though all the areas needing resolution. This can be used as part of your Parenting Orders submitted to the courts. With emotions running high, sometimes adults are the ones who act like children, so their suggestions are guidelines on how to frame the plan collaboratively and positively. Here is a quick overview of the sections, with a link to the full plan following.

Communication
This is all about how you and your ex will communicate in the best interests of the children. It takes into account communication modes, respect, religion, values and principles, major decisions, relatives and contact with the children when you are apart. Tips include:
• focus on the children, not on your past relationship
• children can cope with different rules as long as they are clear about what they are
• children can be very worried about new partners in their parents’ lives. Be sensitive to their fears and anxieties
• don’t discuss the children’s affairs at changeover time–particularly if you don’t communicate well.

Living Arrangements
This covers contact hours, transport, children's activities, changeovers, childcare and supervision, housekeeping and special days. Areas to think about include:
• if neither of us are able to look after the children, who will be the alternative carers? What about school holidays?
• how will we arrange pick up and drop offs?
• what age will the children need to be before we agree on unaccompanied travel by air/coach?
• how much time can each child spend with each parent?
• are there times when it is not convenient to call my children?

Finances
Many couples note that finances are a key issue prior to separation so don't think it changes afterwards. Organizing detailed financial arrangements saves conflict down the road. Dealing with common expenses is imperative, and here are some example items to consider:
• clothes: uniforms, sports, shoes, prom
• education: fees, books and stationery, excursions, vacation care, extra-curricular activities
• medical: doctors and dentists, prescriptions, glasses, insurance
• general: friend's birthday gifts, mobile phones, transport, pocket money, birthdays

Education
Consistency in schooling helps reduce further disruption for the children, but planning ahead for later years, including tertiary education is imperative. Items to discuss or action include:
• how will we select schools?
• are we both attending teacher interviews?
• how will we manage approving school activities?
• have we notified the school to ensure both parents receive correspondence?

You have an average nine years managing shared parenting so best to get it right in the first place. Here is the complete parenting plan by Relationships Australia.