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How to Make a Parenting Plan

Here’s what co-parents should consider when forming a parenting agreement.

What is a parenting plan? 

Parents who are separated, divorced, or were never together often need to form a parenting plan to raise their children. It’s one of the most critical documents you will ever put together, and it maps out the goals, attitudes, beliefs, and schedules you and your co-parent will abide by.  

Wake-up time, bedtime, bath time, mealtime, school time, homework time, playtime, screen time, doctor’s appointments, childcare, and more should all be outlined in the parenting agreement. These guidelines and parameters will help your child receive consistent parenting and undergo consistent routines in both homes.  

Ideally, you and your child's other parent will work together to create your own parenting plan when sharing custody. If you can't agree on items within the parenting plan, you can work with a mediator or attorney to assist. If all else fails, you and your co-parent may 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, as well as in the future. If your parenting plan is intended to punish your co-parent, the judge may throw it out and make you start over, or even worse, favor the other parent when it comes to negotiations of items within the parenting agreement. 

The courts typically believe that a relationship with both parents is best for the children when it comes to shared custody situations. 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 deciding custody, but it’s likely they will still support as much visitation as either parent wants. 
 
For children with special needs, additional considerations may need to be taken into account when forming the parenting plan. Watch our webinar, Mediating for Families with Special Needs Children, for more information.  

What to include in the parenting plan 

Custody 

How will you structure the custody arrangement with your co-parent? This includes physical custody, which refers to where your child lives, and legal custody, which refers to who will make major life decisions on behalf of your minor child. Are you requesting joint custody or sole custody? Custody matters should be a key point in your parenting plan.  

Time schedules 

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? Deciding on these factors and including them in the parenting agreement is crucial.  

Drop-off and pick-up schedules 

How will drop-off and pick-up routines work if you and your co-parent share custody? Where will they occur? What will happen if there is a change in the schedule? You and your co-parent should discuss guidelines for these situations when forming the parenting plan.  

Financial responsibilities 

How are financial duties divided? Are you and your co-parent both financially capable of caring for the children? Will child support be required? Who will claim the children on their taxes? How are school expenses, medical expenses, and costs for everyday needs such as food, shelter, and clothing going to be handled? How will the money be exchanged between parents? You and your co-parent should consider using a tool to track and share expenses, such as Accountable Payments. This TalkingParents feature makes sharing payments with your co-parent easy and keeps all coordination on an Unalterable Record.  

Medical care 

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? All these considerations should be taken into account when forming the parenting agreement. You and your co-parent can document important information like this with our Info Library feature, allowing you to keep shared cards containing critical details that both parents need to reference.  

Education 

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? Check out our other school-related co-parenting resources to learn more about what you need to discuss and coordinate:  

• Co-Parenting & Back to School
• Back to School and Family Time 
How Homework is Preparing Your Kids for the Future
• Managing School-Related Expenses with Your Co-Parent
• Co-Parenting a Student-Athlete  

Communication

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? These should all be laid out in the parenting agreement, and TalkingParents offers a number of tools to help parents with shared custody navigate these matters.  

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? Putting some guidelines into the parenting plan regarding these matters can help you and your co-parent avoid conflict down the road.  

Amendments 

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?  

Other general guidelines and rules 

Do you have rules about discipline, food, diet, bedtimes, homework, screen time, or religious education you want the children to learn? What if you or your co-parent starts 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 visitation be handled? The more issues you can anticipate and work out ahead of time in the parenting plan, 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 gives 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 want for your child. Here are two potential ways you and your co-parent can get started: 

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 

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 law attorney in your area to ensure that you have covered all your legal bases. 

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