A parenting plan is a written agreement between parents that addresses all co-parenting issues that may arise after a separation or divorce. Parenting plans are very useful as the parents are the ones to decide (rather than a judge) what will work best for them and their child(ren). The beauty of a parenting plan is that it can set forth custody, child support, visitation, holiday and vacation schedules, and allows for flexibility between the parents. This decreases the amount of times that the parents will have to go to court to adjust the agreement based on new changes in circumstances.
A Checklist for Creating Your Parenting Plan
A good parenting plan contains enough detail to clearly set each parent’s duties and obligations, but yet remains flexible to accommodate the parents’ changing work schedules, environments, and the needs of the child(ren) as they grow older.
Below is a checklist of questions to consider when creating a Parenting Plan:
- Living arrangements: You must consider the parents’ residential arrangements.
- Will the child(ren) be living in mainly one home or shuttling between two?
- Does that arrangement work for the child(ren), taking into consideration their age(s) and activities?
- Who will do drop-offs and pick-ups?
- How much of a change is this schedule on the child(ren) compared to what they are currently accustomed to?
- Does it make sense to gradually move towards this revised schedule to give the child(ren) time to adjust?
- If one parent has to move, how much notice is fair to allow the parents to reach a new schedule and/or file in court if an agreement cannot be reached?
- Vacation, holidays and special days: You should consider school winter and spring breaks, summer vacation, school holidays, federal holidays, religious holidays. Also address arrangements for other significant days to avoid conflict in the future such as considerations for the child(ren)’s birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other events such as weddings, graduations, and funerals.
- What will be the holiday arrangements?
- Will the child spend certain holidays with one parent every year or will the parents alternate the holidays?
- Will holidays alternate between households?
- Legal Custody: This refers to the decision-making about your child(ren)’s health, education, or religion.
- Who will make the decisions about medical or dental care?
- If there is an emergency medical treatment needed, how will the parents notify each other?
- Who will make the arrangements for medical or dental check-ups and who will take the child to doctor or dentist’s appointments?
- Who will be responsible for taking care of the child(ren) when they are ill during the work week?
- Who will carry the child(ren) on their health insurance coverage?
- How will you address decisions about any choice or change in school, school program, special education needs, tutoring, and extra-curricular activities?
- Who will pay for these programs and activities?
- What will be the religious upbringing and activities of your child(ren)?
- What will you do if the parents have different religious beliefs?
- Problem solving:
- What process will you have for reaching a resolution to disagreements moving forward?
- Will you consider mediation, therapy, a parenting counselor, or litigation?
- How and when will the two of you communicate and what methods will you use (emails, texts, calls)?
- What will be the extended family’s role?
- Will there be time spent with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins?
- How will you make changes to the agreement as needed – in writing or a more formal process?
Parenting Plan Considerations
Creating a parenting plan is not an easy process because there are so many questions that need to be addressed and it becomes difficult for the parents to figure out what they will do in every “what-if” situation. As parents, it is your job to make sure that the needs of your child(ren) are addressed and that the impact of a separation or divorce is minimized as much as possible. I encourage all parents to take the time to enter into a parenting plan. It may be difficult knowing that you aren’t going to get your way 100% of the time but, in the long run, your ability to co-parent and address the changing needs of your family (as well as to avoid extremely costly litigation) will far outweigh any benefit of filing in court and having a judge decide what is best for your family.
If you need assistance in developing a parenting plan and want to discuss the options available that can benefit your new family unit, please contact attorney Amanda Vann at 301-563-6685.