What should be included in a parenting plan?


What does a parenting plan mean? What is a Parenting Plan? How do I make a co-parenting agreement? Is a parenting plan enforceable? What is the most common child custody arrangement? What parenting plan is best? Co-parenting Agreement Template and Checklist. Parenting Plan Outline and Checklist: What Should Be Included in a Parenting Plan?

What does a parenting plan mean?

Parenting plans address how parents will care and provide for children after separation. Everyone agrees that effective plans are personalized and tailored to the particular parents’ concerns, values, and priorities.  State law dictates the exact form and requirements.  Usually, those requirements involve very detailed arrangements on parenting time, visitation, and decision-making authority.  Each states’ parenting plan form, with instructions, should be found easily via Internet web search.

Many states require divorcing parents to create parenting plans, and for good reason.  Devising a good parenting plan can help divorcing parents reduce the potential for disagreements and stress for both themselves and their children, ultimately making the divorce process a little easier.

If you have children and are contemplating or in the process of going through a divorce, you and your spouse will need to decide with whom the children will live and when the other parent will spend time with them.  In a divorce with children, concerns and complications related to child custody and parenting time take center stage, often creating conflict and tension for everyone involved.  While it will take some time for a divorce to be finalized, upon separation, parents need to immediately devise a parenting schedule that works for their family.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a document which details the parenting schedule agreed to by both parents.  As a general rule, a parenting plan should include the standard parenting schedule, which typically includes where the children will live during the week and weekends and who will be responsible for dropping them off and picking them up from school and other activities on certain days.  In addition, the parenting plan can include a schedule for the holidays, summer vacations, and any other special days during the year.

How do I make a co-parenting agreement?

How do I make a co-parenting agreement?

In most divorces, one parent will propose a detailed parenting plan for the other parent’s consideration.  The more effort that goes into the proposal, the better.  Never just slap something together.  Learn as much as you can about your options.  This is where your experienced family lawyer can really make a difference in your future.  What can a parenting plan include?  What is best left to be flexible between the parents?  Be careful what you ask for, you might just get it!

Because family dynamics vary, there is no one-size-fits-all parenting plan that works well for all families.  Your parenting plan should be specifically tailored to meet the needs of your family, always keeping in mind the best interests of your children.

Is a parenting plan enforceable?

Yes.  In most states, if a parent violates a parenting plan arrangement which has been ordered by the court, the reasoning behind the violation matters.  If the parents have consistently deviated from the written plan, compliance becomes a bit vague.  What have the parents been doing?  Was it “a major violation?”  Is a child likely to be harmed?  For instance, denial of visitation rights can be very serious.  On the other hand, one parent being late an hour one time in a year is unlikely to be addressed.

Here’s another example of “it depends.”  If the parents agree that neither parent will smoke in the presence of the child, whether or not the child is particularly sensitive to cigarette smoke matters.  Does the child have a breathing problem, like Asthma?  If so, and the violation is consistent, and the child has been to the doctor as a result, that is one thing.  It is not as serious if the child is not sensitive and the parent was outdoors in the back yard.  It just depends.  For close calls, always ask your experienced family law attorney.  Get advice specific to your particular situation.  Don’t wait.  If there is a major problem in your mind, you may need to address it head on or the judge may ask you, “What took you so long to bring this to the Court’s attention?”

What is the most common child custody arrangement?

What is the most common child custody arrangement?

You may obtain information regarding parenting plans from your attorney or the Court, but before you begin creating your own, it may be helpful to review some of the most common types of parenting schedules. Although parenting schedules vary from family to family, the following is a list of some of the most common parenting schedule templates.

  • The Standard: Probably the most common parenting plan for the non-custodial parent is the alternate weekend schedule from Friday to Sunday which often includes a Wednesday night dinner. While any particular non-custodial parent could be granted more parenting time at trial, this schedule works well for parents with practical limitations because of their work schedule or long distance travel between households. Keep in mind that for some children, a mid-week dinner may be disruptive to their evening routine, and the best interests of the children should always take precedence over the wants and feelings of the parents. On the other hand, frequent interaction with the non-custodial parent is always a good idea.
  • Alternate Weekends with an Extra Overnight: This parenting plan builds on the alternate weekend schedule by adding an extra overnight on Sunday or Thursday. This plan gives the non-custodial parent an opportunity for school pick-ups and drop-offs, allowing a parent who did not assume much responsibility for child rearing during the marriage to increase participation.  The quality of the time a parent spends with their children is often just as important as the quantity of time, and school pick-ups and drop-offs are often excellent times for a parent to bond and communicate with their children. Example:
  • The alternate residential parent shall have parenting time every other weekend beginning Friday from release from school or 6:00 p.m. if school is not in session until Monday morning beginning of school or 9:00 a.m. if school is not in session.”

  • More Significant Timeshare: Short of a 50/50 parenting timeshare, an alternative plan allowing a non-custodial parent a more significant timeshare includes Thursday after school until Monday morning one week, and Thursday and Friday in the next week, giving the non-custodial parent five out of every fourteen overnights. This schedule allows the less involved parent longer blocks of time with the children on school days.
  • Most Weekends: When distance or other factors limit a non-custodial parent’s ability to have physical custody during the week, a three out of four or four out of five weekend schedule is a good alternative schedule.
  • Equal Timeshare: Parents who have shared equal parenting responsibilities while married often prefer this parenting plan, which is most appropriate for parents who live reasonably close to their children’s school. The equal timeshare may be divided in a variety of ways.  Example:
  • Parents shall enjoy equal parenting time with the children on a week on/week off basis. The exchange day shall be Friday upon release from school or 6:00 p.m. if school is not in session.

What is a good 50/50 custody schedule?

With younger children who have difficulty with spending large amounts of time away from a primary caregiving parent, a common approach is for the children to spend Monday and Tuesday in one household, Wednesday and Thursday in another, alternating Friday to Monday morning weekends.  With older children, alternating weeks with each parent is less disruptive and generally results in fewer exchanges.  Also, it’s easier to remember!

What parenting plan is best?

Almost all experienced family lawyers will answer that the best parenting plans are tailored to the individual circumstances of the parents’ lives.  What’s good for the parents is often good for the children.  That being said, most successful parenting plans balance two competing interests:

  1. Limit exchanges. The fewer times children must be transported between the parents’ homes, the better.
  2. Frequent interaction with the non-custodial parent. Children need to see both parents as often as is practicable.

Logistics matter.  The best parenting plans address consistency and flexibility.  Homework must get done.  School projects may need parental guidance.  Practices and games require transportation and fees.  Summer camps always seem to be a pain in the rear.  Share school Internet log ins and passwords.  Share coaches and teachers’ e-mail addresses.  Share game and performance schedules.  Don’t just assume the other parent will figure it out on their own.  Parenting is difficult enough without playing “hide the ball.”  If one parent is not pulling a fair share of the boring tasks, it is not fair to the other parent. Example:

Each parent agrees to notify the other at least one week in advance of any special occasion or event for the children as to any religious, educational, or athletic event that will include, without limitation: graduation, demonstration of acquired skills, recitals, and awards ceremonies. Each parent will have an equal right to attend these special occasions.

If a child reads often, their standardized test scores will be higher.  If a child struggles in math and one parent is more consistent helping out, lean into that.  ACT and SAT prep courses in the Summer drive some kids mad.  Others really look forward to learning how to “game the system,” get higher scores, and maximize opportunities for college scholarships.  Get on the same page with the other parent.

Although the unique life circumstances of each individual parent will always play a role in every parenting plan, it should go without saying that the wants and needs of your children should always be the main priority.  With that being said, there are some factors that you should keep in mind when creating your parenting plan.

  • Consistency counts. While it is understandable that a parent would want to spend as much time as possible with their children, sometimes a mid-week dinner or extra overnight may be disrupting and unsettling to a child.  Children, particularly the younger ones, need predictability and consistency in their lives in order to feel secure.  Take into consideration the individual temperaments of your children and notice when a parenting schedule does not seem to be working well for them.
  • House Rules. If humanly possible, try and negotiate similar house rules for studying, bed times, chores, Internet access, and discipline.  Include cell phone and social media rules.  Who pays?  Who has access?  Parental oversight?  Tracking software access?  Will a parent enforce the other’s discipline on use of the cell phone?  Consistency sets up children for success.  Example:
  • All schoolwork for each child will be saved and made available for review by the other parent at the time the children are exchanged.

  • The burden is on the parents, not the children. If commuting, juggling, and dealing with awkward scheduling changes are stressful for you to deal with, imagine what it must be like for your children.  Too many transitions can be overwhelming to kids, so try to build transitions around natural breaks in a child’s life, such as going to or leaving daycare or school. If at all possible, try to avoid transitions after dinner when most children are likely to be tired.  If a parenting schedule is going to inconvenience anyone, it should be the parents, not the children.
  • Children’s preferences matter. Your family’s parenting plan should take into account the unique temperaments, preferences, and activities of your children, even if that means that one parent spends less time with them.  Parents should know preferences without asking the children.  Fairness between the parents should be thought of in the long term, not the short term.  Remember that your children will grow, develop, and change over time, so parents must remain flexible and open to adjusting their parenting plan when the circumstances call for it.
  • Rules. There are very few hard and fast rules.  Most parenting plans allow for some flexibility.  There can always be unintended consequences with seemingly simple changes.  Some changes may not be enforceable without amending the Court’s order. Before agreeing to change a parenting plan schedule, however, seriously consider having a conversation with your experienced family law attorney.

Co-parenting Agreement Template and Checklist

It would be wise to consult with an experienced family law attorney before entering into any proposed parenting plan agreement in order to understand the legal implications of your particular matter.  If cooperation with your estranged spouse is a problem, you can create the parenting plan on your own and then communicate your plan to your spouse or your spouse’s attorney to see if it works for him or her.  Mediation is always an option for parents having difficulty communicating and agreeing to a parenting plan.

Parenting Plan Outline and Checklist: What Should Be Included in a Parenting Plan?

What Is Parental Alienation?

Parenting Plan Outline and Checklist: What Should Be Included in a Parenting Plan?

The following are suggestions for how to go about creating your parenting plan.

  • Make an attempt to get together with your spouse to discuss the proposed parenting plan. Make sure to write down any decisions you make and be as specific as possible to reduce the likelihood of arguments once the plan is put into place. Make sure that both you and the other parent are satisfied with the decisions, but also recognize that your plan needs to be flexible in order to accommodate the changing needs and circumstances of the children.
  • Decide on decision making authority. Typically, parents agree to either split or share joint decision-making authority regarding their children’s education, non-emergency health care, religion, and extracurricular activities.  For example, dad may have final decision-making authority on extracurricular activities and religion, leaving mom the other two categories.
  • Create a parenting time calendar. Choose a schedule that works for the children, especially when it comes to school, including arrangements regarding holidays, school breaks, and vacations, and then create a calendar that spells out the plan.  Learn all of your options and general rules upon which most parents agree:
    1. Holidays are generally split equally, alternating years. But not always.  Pay attention to Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.
    2. Summers have 8-12 weeks. Totally negotiable. Example:  “Parents shall remain on their regular schedule throughout the Summer. However, each parent shall be entitled to up to two (2) weeks of vacation time with the children. In even years, Mother will notify Father by April 1 of the two (2) weeks she desires and Father will notify Mother his desired two (2) weeks by April 15. In odd years, this schedule shall be reversed.”
    3. During school, most parents alternate weekends.
    4. For school nights, on a two-week rotation, how many school nights’ parenting time will each parent have?
  • Logistics. Remember that parental convenience is not the primary purpose of a parenting plan, and you should try to avoid as much disruption to your children’s lives as possible. While parental convenience should not be a primary objective, logistics matter, too. Example:
  • Each parent will permit the child to carry gifts, toys, clothing, and other items belonging to the child with him or her to the residence of the other parent or relatives. Each parent will also permit the child to take gifts, toys, clothing, and other items belonging to the child back to the residence of the other parent. The gifts, toys, clothing, and other items belonging to the child referred to here mean items that are reasonably transportable and do not include pets.

  • Calendars for Both Parents. When you reach an agreement, and the court approves it, record the parenting time at least a year in advance and make a copy for each parent.  Make two copies.  Parenting is hard enough.  Memories and calculations can get confusing.  Expecting and planning for confusion helps avoid it in the first place.  There are various other smart phone apps to designed to assist parents in coordinating parenting time and reducing conflict.
  • Outline the details regarding financial responsibilities. Although a preliminary parenting plan is not an official child support order, the plan may include any agreements related to financial support if one parent has primary custody of the children.  It is also a good idea to determine how other expenses such as sports, lessons, tutoring sessions, uninsured medical expenses, and co-pays will be handled. Make a list of all the expenses that child support does not cover and decide which extras each parent is responsible for paying.
  • Decide how you will be dealing with school related issues. Discuss what strategy you will take regarding receiving information and grades from the school. You may wish to arrange for one person to receive everything and make copies for the other, or you can share logins and passwords for school records.  What about parent teacher conferences? Each parent may want to take turns attending, or both parents can attend together.  Some teachers may be willing to make arrangements for each parent to attend all the conferences separately.  Make sure you communicate about school events so at least one of you is attending.
  • Include instructions regarding your children’s medical care. Who will attend doctor’s appointments? If both you and the other parent work, you may want to take turns.  Also, it is a good idea to have a medical emergency strategy for your children in place before an emergency arises.   You may wish to make a list of emergency phone numbers and your child’s medical and insurance information to share with the other parent.
  • Come to an agreement about childcare and babysitting. Determine whether both parents will use the same babysitter. Also, make a rule about considering the other parent to watch the children before calling the sitter. This is commonly called a “right of first refusal.” There is no standard here.  Judges have varying opinions as well.  Discuss this with your family law attorney.  Example:

    At any time in which a parent plans to place the children in the care of a babysitter (including a friend, relative, or neighbor) without that parent’s presence for at more than X (6-12) hours, the other parent will have the right of first refusal to care for the children during that time.

  • Set up a communication plan between parents and children with parents. It is essential for the welfare of your children that you regularly communicate with the other parent about issues related to the children, such as discipline, routines and chores, and any medical or behavioral problems. Come to an agreement about when and how you wish to communicate about these matters.  Email can be a good method of communication, especially for parents prone to arguments.  Example:
  • Child may call Mother at any time when with Father. Child may also call Father at any time when with Mother. Parents will encourage open communication between child and other parent. Parents will also encourage communication with extended family, including visits, letters, and telephone calls to and from grandparents and other relatives.

  • Summer Camps and Out of Town Athletics.  What camps?  When? Who pays?  Who takes children for out of town athletics?  Can both parents attend any event?  Make up parenting time for missed time when children travel? If possible, nail down these potential trouble issues. Example:
  • Mother will pay for one summer camp per child per summer. Father will pay for all extracurricular activities and related expenses during the school year except out of town travel for activities (i.e. soccer tournaments and cheer competitions).  Which parent will be responsible for transportation for out of town events will be mutually agreed upon in advance.  The parent responsible for taking a child out of town will pay for all related expenses including gas, food, lodging, and event fees.  In the event neither parent travels with the child, the parents agree to equally split all travel and event related expenses.

Determine what you want and have your attorney review your plan. If you don’t know what you want, ask your attorney for suggestions and advice.  An experienced family law attorney should be very helpful.  Research online for other ideas.  Never just throw up your hands.  There is too much at stake.  Before signing anything, get your lawyer to review your proposed plan, make suggestions, and answer any questions you may have.

There is no reason children must suffer a less successful future because of their parents’ divorce.  Parents will always face challenges when raising children.  However, a detailed, clear, and flexible parenting plan can definitely make the difficult job of co-parenting a lot easier. Giving your children the best opportunities in life often requires saying “no” more often than saying “yes.”  Meet the other parent more than half-way.  Ask for help.  Give help when asked.  Your children will benefit from parental cooperation and coordination.

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