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7 Helpful Parenting Plan Provisions

Parenting plan stipulations that can help prevent conflict and add structure.

Parenting plans are court-ordered agreements that cover all things shared parenting in detail, from how joint custody is handled to what kind of custody schedule will be followed. No two plans are identical, but many standard stipulations are included across most custody agreements. Once the courts review and approve a parenting plan, both parents must follow it because they're legally binding documents.

After their separation or divorce is finalized, some parents realize their parenting plan needs to be more comprehensive. Fortunately, many parents share helpful provisions they've discovered throughout their years of co-parenting. Here are 7 parenting provisions many parents consider hidden gems for their custody agreement.

1. Plans for tax claims

Claiming your children as dependents on your taxes is a cut-and-dry decision that becomes complicated when parents separate and share custody. While tax laws make it straightforward for shared parenting situations that involve a non-custodial and custodial parent, it's less clear for co-parents with 50/50 custody. Because only one parent can claim their children on their taxes, including a tax stipulation in your parenting plan can help avoid future confusion.

If you and your child's other parent have equal shared custody, your parenting plan may benefit from having a stipulation related to taxes. You can specify that you and your ex can alternate filing as head of household and claiming your shared children as dependents each tax year. Even if parenting time fluctuates, the provision in your custody agreement eliminates any confusion or doubt.


2. Transportation rules

Custody exchanges, extracurricular activities, and other events require children to have some form of transportation. However, parents with shared custody and complex schedules may need help getting their kids from place to place. Depending on the arrangement, some parents may have family members step in and assist, while others prefer that only the parents transport them. While last-minute changes can usually be managed, it can be difficult for co-parents to find a less stressful way to handle their children's transportation plans.

In any case, having a provision for how transportation should be handled helps parents stick to acceptable guidelines such as:

  • Who can provide transportation for the children
  • Where and when exchanges should take place
  • Who is responsible for handling extracurricular travel
  • If lateness is considered forfeited parenting time
  • Whether and how parents should share updates

3. Future holiday splits

With so many holidays throughout the year, it can be challenging for co-parents to accept that they don't get to spend all of them with their children. Co-parents often argue over which parent gets whichever holidays they want. This tension usually extends to spring or summer breaks while their kids are in school, which can lead to more intense frustrations since the durations are much longer.

To avoid these disputes, include a thorough provision in your parenting plan of how you and your ex will handle holidays. Whether you want to alternate custody for major holidays or be with your kids on a specific holiday each year, work with your co-parent to find a compromise and include it in your plan. Additionally, parents can add details about what information they share with their child's other parent if either one takes the kids on an international or more extended vacation.


4. Communication expectations

The unfortunate reality of shared parenting is that many co-parents deal with high-conflict factors. These issues can range from harassment to non-responsiveness and anything in between. In some more intense situations, parents may even be concerned that their children's other parent contributes to some degree of parental alienation. To anticipate these issues, especially in situations with high conflict, it's best to set expectations for how communication should be handled.

In your parenting plan, helpful communication expectations may include:

  • Whether you must use a service like TalkingParents
  • How long it should take to respond to a message
  • What a lack of response can be interpreted as
  • What topics are either appropriate or off-limits
  • The fact that badmouthing will not be tolerated

5. Social media guidelines

With social media being as prevalent as it is, some parents refrain from posting photos of their kids on their social profiles. In shared parenting situations, however, agreeing with your child's other parent about whether you'll post them on social media isn't always possible. Parents may also have differing opinions on how old their children should be to use electronics or create and use their social profiles. These differences of opinion can lead to significant tension, especially if they're left unaddressed or unresolved.

To help iron out these differences and avoid conflict that directly involves and affects your kids, you can work to include social media guidelines in your parenting plan. If you and your co-parent can agree not to post pictures of your children or let them use social media until a certain age, add these decisions as a stipulation. If one parent is more concerned about whether the other parent will follow this rule, they can optionally outline the potential to pursue a solution in court.


6. Right of first refusal

When parents need someone to watch their children, asking a family member or looking for a babysitter is the natural first choice. Co-parents with shared custody, however, may have differing preferences on handling childcare. These opposing opinions can often create tension, especially when a co-parent can watch their children when their ex needs it but isn't asked. In these instances, one parent in the shared parenting relationship may feel like they lost time with their kids.

In these cases, parents can significantly benefit from including a right of first refusal in their custody agreement. This stipulation requires that whichever parent has custody of their children must ask their co-parent if they can provide childcare before seeking it from another person. Your parenting plan can include a timeframe for how much advance notice should be given. Even if a parent refuses, this provision guarantees that both parents have the opportunity to care for their children when one parent needs someone else to watch them.

7. Mutually agreed changes

Because parenting plans are court-approved documents, any changes that either parent wishes to make must be processed by formally requesting a modification. Even if the desired change is slight, the effort needed to file the motion, attend relevant hearings, and potentially involve lawyers until the modification is agreed upon and approved can be astronomical. This process can be particularly frustrating for co-parents who agree on a potential change but must still go through the process of filing it with the courts.

To avoid going to court unnecessarily, co-parents can include a provision in their parenting plan that enables them to make changes without significant legal involvement. Whether it's a slight change to custody exchange procedures or something less impactful, mutually agreed-upon changes can be implemented without going to court. In cases that typically involve more conflict, parents may also include that they must work with a mediator or other legal professional to resolve disputes.


Important things to note

The concepts behind these provisions are simple to understand, but the language required for your parenting plan may be more complex. Because your custody agreement is a legal document that the courts must review and approve, there are specific requirements for phrasing that can vary by state. To ensure your provisions are correct and the appropriate steps are followed, you may benefit from working with a family law attorney in your area who has experience with custody cases. By having a lawyer help you create and file your parenting plan, you and your ex can ensure the time you spend in court is minimal if required.

Additionally, it's critical to remember that any stipulations in your parenting plan apply to both you and your child's other parent equally. If you have a recurring issue with your ex that you want to address through a new provision in your plan, you will also be expected to follow any rules included in that document. Parenting plan provisions can be helpful tools to make co-parenting more efficient, but they can't and shouldn't be used as some form of punishment or restriction against your ex.

Including provisions in your parenting plan for matters that could cause confusion or conflict can be helpful down the road. However, adding too many of them with great detail can backfire and make your shared parenting situation feel restrictive. These provisions often help create more structure but can also hinder your co-parenting relationship if used excessively or overenthusiastically. Before assuming you need a new provision and adding it, consider your situation and whether it would benefit your children.

How TalkingParents can help

Whether you're trying to make a parenting plan or make an adjustment by adding a new provision, TalkingParents is here to help enhance the security and accountability of your co-parenting situation. With comprehensive features that help with communication and organization, our all-in-one service empowers co-parents by giving them the tools they need to co-parent with peace of mind. No matter where you and your co-parent are in the parenting plan process, you can refer to your custody agreement, track changes to important dates, discuss opportunities for improvement, and more.

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