You are getting a divorce. You are splitting from your partner. You have a child—or two—together. You might not know exactly what to expect as you transition into a co-parenting situation, but one thing is for sure. You don’t want to end up in court every year. 

As an adult, your inclination may be to sit down and hammer out a detailed parenting plan that you can use for the next decade. In your mind, the best-case scenario is that this plan will be the perfection solution until your child heads off to college. If you and your ex approach your custody agreement this way, though, you’re leaving out one big factor: Children change.

For example, your child may not be enrolled in many after-school activities this year. As a result, you and the other parents set terms that clearly state that you will pick your child up after school Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, because that fits with your work schedule. Things go well for a year. 

Then, next year, your son realizes how much fun it would be to play football with his friends, or your daughter decides that she is going to join the basketball team.

Suddenly, your plan doesn’t work. Your child has practice after school every day for a few months. You lose the quailty time that you used to spend with your child Monday through Wednesday. Now, it’s home and off to bed. Then, there are games on the weekends. Spending every other weekend at your house no longer makes any sense or isn’t possible when those away tournaments pop up. 

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Clearly, your parenting plan from a year ago isn’t going to fit with your child’s life anymore. And, if you think that’s bad, next year your child could quit the sports team, join the debate team or the drama club, and give you a brand new schedule to work around.

It often pays to put some flexibility into your parenting plan, create a process for handling expected or unexpected changes and talk about how you want to communicate with your ex. Long story short: make sure your plan is ready for the changes.