What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a document that details how a child will be raised by parents who are not a couple. Key elements include a visitation schedule and rules around making decisions, such as who decides where a child will attend school. Parenting plans may be created by the parents or, in the case of disagreement, ultimately finalized by a judge.

Any child who is going to be raised by parents who live independently of one another can benefit from a parenting plan. A good plan provides certainty for everyone, clearly defining each parent’s responsibilities. A good plan also limits the potential for future disputes.

Parenting plans can be short, long and detailed, or somewhere in between. What matters is that the plan provides enough structure that the parents are able to work together effectively. Let’s explore how you, as a parent, can create a parenting plan that helps your child have a great upbringing.

What are the Benefits of a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is established by the parents of a minor child (or the court in cases where the parents disagree), which outlines the custody, visitation, and parental responsibility expectations for the child. This could range from who the custodial parent will be to more specific details such as decisions regarding the education, healthcare, and social activities. The primary purpose of the parenting plan is to ensure that the parents are acting in the best interest of the child.

A parenting plan can provide tremendous benefits to both the parents and the child in case of divorce. By negotiating a parenting plan, both parents will get a chance to have a voice in providing for the needs and well-being of the child going forward.

In addition, as the parents may not agree on every detail of how to provide for the child’s needs going forward, the parenting plan will help to alleviate any disagreements that may arise, reducing conflict between the parents, and facilitating communication.

For the child, the parenting plan will help to provide them with a sense of security that their needs are being met. This can help to provide additional stability to the child and help them to set expectations for their future.

How Can I Create a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a written document agreed upon and signed by both parents and, in instances where required, filed with the courts. A parenting plan can help to establish the lines of communication between parents as they navigate the process of divorce or separation, reducing conflict and facilitating stability for the child.

Parents can work together to create a parenting plan which covers the needs of the child or children. If necessary, they may consult the advice of an attorney to help them to establish a parenting plan.

Working with a family lawyer may be especially helpful in instances where the parenting plan will have to be filed with the court system. Some states have specific legal requirements about what must be included in a parenting plan.

These days, you can easily draft a parenting plan online using a template or example plan. You can also use software such as Timtab to quickly draft a plan by answering questions. Plans developed online can be manually edited to add unique provisions or make adjustments as part of a negotiation process.

A big advantage of using Timtab is that the software is able to generate an optimal custody schedule. The schedule automatically accounts for factors such as the custody split, and how far the parents live away from each other or the school district.

What Should be Included in a Parenting Plan?

The requirements for a parenting plan may vary depending on the state in which you live but, at a minimum, parenting plans should include:

  • Agreement regarding which parent will have custody of the child and a visitation schedule for the other parent (including holidays and vacations)
  • Determination of who will be financially responsible for the child’s educational, healthcare and extracurricular activities
  • How the parents will communicate with one another and how each parent will communicate with the child
  • A contingency plan to outline what will happen if the child is sick on a visitation day, an emergency occurs, or other unforeseen circumstances
  • How a dispute will be resolved if an issue occurs where the parents cannot reach an agreement.

Design for Simplicity and Ease of Use

Generally speaking, parenting plans should, while being clear about roles and responsibilities, avoid being too prescriptive.

For example, it may be easier to leave provisions for birthdays out of the plan altogether. Instead of having rules about what happens every time a child has a birthday, it can be left up to parents to work things out informally. At worst, a parent without scheduled time on a birthday might just have to celebrate the birthday before or shortly after the actual day.

As another example, financial responsibilities can be kept simple by giving each parent certain responsibilities, such as the mother paying for school uniforms and the father buying sports gear. A good parenting plan avoids the need for parents to have to track each other’s spending.

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