What Is a Parenting Plan?
If you ever stopped to make of list of everything you do in a week to care for and provide for your children, you’d have a list several pages long. Wake-up time, bedtime, bath time, mealtime, school time, homework time, playtime, screen time, doctor’s appointments, childcare, and the list of responsibilities goes on and on. Now, imagine putting together that list for the next year of your child’s life for the next 10 years.
This is what parents who are separating or divorced must do. It’s called a parenting plan, and it is one of the most critical legal documents you will ever put together. It maps out the goals, attitudes, beliefs, and schedules you and your child’s other parent will adhere to to raise a healthy, happy child who has a strong relationship with both parents.
Ideally, you and your child’s other parent will work together to create your own parenting plan. If you can’t agree on items in the parenting plan, you can work with a mediator or attorney to assist. If all else fails, you’ll have to go to court, and a judge will make the final decision.
Parenting Plan Guidelines
Your parenting plan should focus on what is in the best interests of your child, at his or her current age and in the future. If your parenting plan is intended to punish your other parent, the judge will throw it out and make you start over, or worse yet, favor the other parent when it comes to negotiations of items within the parenting plan.
The courts firmly believe that a relationship with both parents is always best for the children. They want to see that both parents are going to be supportive of that goal. If there are extenuating circumstances such as abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol dependence, or mental health issues, the court will take these into consideration when it comes to custody, but it’s more than likely the court will always support as much visitation as either parent wants.
Significant Items to Include
How will you structure the custody arrangement with your other parent? This includes physical custody, where your child lives, and legal custody, making major life decisions on behalf of your minor child. Are you requesting joint custody or sole custody?
When will each of you have time with your children? This includes overnight stays, day-to-day routines, extracurricular activities, vacations, holidays, and special occasions. How will childcare arrangements work if you are both employed?
Drop Off and Pick Up Schedules
How will drop off and pick up routines work if you and your other parent share custody? Where will they occur? What will happen if there is a change in the schedule?
How are financial duties for caring for your kids divided? Are you and your other parent both financially capable of caring for the children? Will child support be required? How are school expenses, medical expenses, expenses for everyday needs such as food, shelter, and clothing, and extracurricular activities going to be handled? How will the money be exchanged between parents? Who will claim the children on their taxes?
Who is responsible for making routine doctor and dentist appointments? How should medical emergencies be handled? Who is responsible for providing health insurance for the children?
Where will your child attend school? Who will participate in parent-teacher conferences and open houses? How will you share school report cards and other essential documents with your co-parent?
How will you and your co-parent communicate with one another? How will you share the children’s schedules and notify one another about important events in the children’s lives? Where will important documents like birth certificates, insurance cards, and social security cards be kept?
Travel and Relocation
What happens if a parent is relocated for their job or wants to move because they eventually remarry? What if one parent wants to take an extended vacation with the kids?
No parenting plan will last forever, no matter how many issues you try to handle ahead of time. How will you make amendments to the parenting plan as the children get older and situations change? If you have disagreements about the parenting plan, how will you resolve them?
General Guidelines and Rules
Do you have rules about discipline, food, diet, bedtimes, homework, screen time, or religious education you want the children learn? What if you or your other parent begin dating someone new? Do you have rules about how to introduce someone you are dating to the kids? If you hire a babysitter, are there restrictions on the age of the sitter? How will grandparent visitations be handled? The more issues you can anticipate and work out ahead of time, the better.
Try Working Together First
If possible, building a parenting plan directly with your co-parent is the best route to take. It shows the courts and your children that you’re willing to have a healthy co-parenting relationship. It also allows you and your co-parent equal say in how you want to raise your children. If the courts must make the decision, neither of you may get what you feel is in the best for your children.
How to Get Started
- One way to start the process of making a parenting plan with your ex might be for each of you to draft a proposal of how you envision the time divided, expenses divided, and how minor and major decisions in the children’s lives will be made. Then you can come together to negotiate.
- Another idea is for each of you to map out a schedule of what a typical week in the child’s life will look like when the changes take place. Again, come together and compare lists and then start the negotiating process.
If your children are old enough, make sure your parenting plan considers their preferences, as the courts will consider this too.
Finally, there may be some language that you are required to include in your parenting plan, depending on state custody guidelines. Even if you or your co-parent can amicably work out a parenting agreement, it may be worthwhile to talk to a family attorney to ensure that you have covered all your legal bases.