Creating Parenting Plans that Work

A parenting plan is an agreement between parents who are either divorced/divorcing or never married, and it outlines the custody of their children. It takes into account arrangements such as who has the children on which days; who makes major decisions about the children’s education, health, etc.; and what to do if any party’s situation significantly changes. Parents who agree on a parenting plan rather than let the court decide are more likely to comply with custody arrangements.

Sitting down with the spouse you are divorcing to work out a parenting plan may seem like the last thing you want to do, but this approach holds many advantages. You are the people who know your children best: their needs, their schedules and their preferences. By working together to create a parenting plan that satisfies the needs of your new family structure, you will avoid the possibility of a court’s less nuanced solution. A court can only know what you tell it about your family’s particularities, but you and your spouse are already exceptionally familiar with the territory. A family law attorney can help you create a plan that is right for you and your family.

Craft a parenting plan that is specific yet flexible. Create a workable system for dividing responsibilities so that the plan can function whether parents get along well or not. You can rotate primary responsibilities and decisions, or you can delegate specific areas to each parent. Be sure to include terms requiring each parent to treat the other with respect when the children can see or hear you. Determine a process for resolving conflicts and build in periods of review and adjustment — usually after the first year and then every two or three years thereafter.

The court will review your parenting plan to see that it fulfills the best interests of the children. Typically, courts go along with plans to which both parents have agreed.

Items That Should Be Included in Every Parenting Plan

Visitation/shared parenting schedules:

  • Use a regular calendar and a school calendar to plan for school breaks, holidays and summer vacations.
  • Define when holidays start and end.
  • Remember to include days like Mother’s Day/Father’s Day and birthdays.
  • Create a formula for anticipatable events that will work for the first one to two years of the plan’s life.
  • Don’t forget to include drop-off and pick-up times and locations.
  • See that both parents have access to medical records, school records, teachers and activities.
  • Make sure both parents have the right to make emergency medical decisions.

Child support payments:

  • Include what is covered by the payments and who gets any tax deductions.
  • Designate how payment will be made.
  • Make sure the paying party has adequate life insurance to cover support obligations in case of death.
  • Designate which parent is responsible for costs associated with the children’s ongoing medical and dental insurance and related expenses.
  • Don’t forget childcare, education and extra-curricular activity expenses and whether they will be paid directly to the provider.
  • Address how you will deal with delinquent payments.

Travel details and expenses when parents live far from each other:

  • Be specific if there are age-related travel concerns or other requirements.
  • State any restriction on domestic or international travel.
  • Changes and Notifications

Make plans for how you will handle adjustments:

  • Draft a set of rules for dealing with changes like special events or unanticipated business travel.
  • Set up a system that gives the other parent sufficient notice when long-term plans, address, telephone number or employment changes.
  • Include notice provisions for school activities, events and conferences.
  • Establish how notice will be given of new childcare providers, children’s location during visitation and new relationships or people present during time with children.

And Don’t Forget…

Parents can end up back in court when they fail to plan for the future. Make sure your parenting plan contains provisions that address:

  • Moves to different states.
  • Elective medical/dental procedures like orthodontics.
  • Impact of employment loss or disability.
  • Method and timeline for child support review.
  • College selection and expenses.
  • Adjusting visitation based on children’s ages.

To ensure that you have adequately addressed all appropriate custody issues, review your parenting plan with an experienced family law attorney.