Every now and then relationships end and, in order to move on with their lives, people stop living together. But the fact that they are no longer partners, or husband and wife, doesn’t mean they stop being co-parents. If they have one or more children together, they need to consider coming up with a parenting plan.
What is a Parenting Plan
A parenting plan is a document, more or less formal depending on the circumstances, that parents who are no longer living together use to navigate the murky waters of raising a child together. If parents went through a rough divorce and are sometimes unwilling to discuss these matters on a civilized manner, the parenting plan may be mandated by family court, as the matters pertaining children need to be regulated from the beginning.
If, despite their differences and conflicts, co-parents are willing to work together, the document can be more informal, but it is still binding as long as both parents are in agreement with the regulations and have signed the document. Do consider that as the children get older, and new needs arise, co-parents may have to make amendments to the document to accommodate eventual changes. Make sure all matters are agreed upon and be sure to write everything down, including the smallest details.
What to Include in a Parenting Plan Form
There are issues that are mandatory when it comes to creating your parenting plan, and others that may seem accessory, but consider that the more thorough you are when it comes to drafting the document the least amount of issues will arise in the future. We’ll start by listing court required items (1-6) , and go on to include some additional points (7-13) you might overlook, but are also important for raising your child.
1. Custody and Visitation
Specify who the child(ren) will live with and a regular schedule for visitation. You might decide on joint custody, or that it is in the best interest for the child to live primarily with one parent. Consider that a baby will need to spend time with and be cared for by both parents to establish bonding and that school schedule of an older child may conflict with the visitation schedule.
Make special considerations for vacations and holidays, trying to work out an equal opportunities schedule where both parties are satisfied with the arrangement. And you might want to make an exception in terms of visitation schedule to accommodate for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Birthdays, etc.
In life you also need to plan for the unexpected, like a sick child during vacation time, or an invite to a party on visitation day. Adding some basic guidelines on this beforehand will allow for an easier negotiation when the unexpected arrives.
2. Exchanging the Child(ren)
Specify how and where the exchange will take place, whether at both your houses, if you are in cordial terms, or if you prefer a neutral location, all depending in your circumstances.
3. Rules for Communication with the Child(ren)
It is important to clarify how and when a parent can communicate with the child during the other parent visitation time. You can establish specific hours for the other parent to call the child and allow them privacy during that time, or agree that the child is always reachable, but consider that though children need to stay in contact with both parents, you should try not to interfere with visitation time and allow for your child to spend quality time with the co-parent.
It should also be clear that civility and mutual respect is to be observed by both parents when talking to the child about the situation and the co-parent. Your children should not be made to feel responsible for your separation, or feel they have to take sides when it comes to being with their parents. With older children and teens you might even want to include them in the discussion as being involved gives them a sense of control over a situation hard enough for them.
4. Schooling and Education
Determine which type of schooling you want for your child and consider issues like attendance to parent-teacher conferences, receiving information and grades from school, attendance to school events, as well as the question of how to pay for your child’s higher education, establishing guidelines for parent contribution.
5. Medical Needs
Determine who selects doctors, attends appointments, type of treatment and protocol in case of emergencies. Agree on how to cover medical and dental insurance costs and how to choose elective procedures (braces, for example) and how to pay for them.
6. Financial Support
This is probably the most complicated aspect in a parenting plan as both parents are expected to contribute to the support of the child. Usually, the non-custodial parent pays child support – a set amount of money paid monthly to the other parent to help cover financial expenses for the child. This amount depends on each parent’s income and the custody arrangement, and more often than not requires the intervention of family court to mandate an amount for child support.
Apart from this monthly support, you might also discuss how to handle large expenses associated with the child, such as medical or dentist bills. You may also specify the type of expenses to cover, so as to avoid having to pay half of a costly purchase for the child you did not agree with beforehand.
Consider children’s belongings as well both when it comes to clothing and shoes and a computer or video game system. Will the children bring items back and forth, or will you keep your children’s belongings separate at each of your homes. Though the former may seem cheaper, the later may help to avoid conflict if items go missing, for example.
You may also want to specify the end for the financial support (which in most cases is only mandated for minors) where you stipulate a certain age, or event, such as college graduation, in your parenting plan.
7. Communication with the Co-parent
Parents definitely want to know what goes on in their children’s lives, from punishment you’re enforcing, to schedules of soccer games and issues they’ve been having at school. The way you chose to communicate comes down to the circumstances surrounding your divorce or separation and to whether you were able to keep a pleasant, amicable relationship or not. Your parenting plan should also outline the means and frequency of this communication to avoid misunderstandings.
8. Establish and coordinate daily routine for the child(ren)
Having the same routine in both households is very important for your children, especially when they are young, as it helps them feel safe and fosters a balanced development. Babies and toddlers need to keep the same feeding and sleeping schedule, and older children must have a consistent homework, playtime and sleeping time routine. For your parenting plan, go over your child’s everyday routine and agree on a schedule you can both follow, avoiding impossible constraints.
9. Establish Rules, Responsibilities and Discipline
Discuss your expectations and disciplinary methods and agree on a set of rules you both can follow consistently. This is particularly important with older children and teens, where matters like curfew, going out without adult supervision, phone, internet and television usage need to be the same at both households. Try to implement the same chores in both households and discuss the consequences for violating a house rule, and implement the consequences consistently.
10. Lifestyle and Personal Choices
Your co-partner may be a fast-food fan, but you believe your child should have healthy balanced meals, or you might be vegan and your co-partner wants your child to be omnivore. You can ask your co-parent to limit his heavy drinking and smoking to times when your child is not around. Religious education, cultural heritage, political affiliation, etc., are all issues that might arise at this time. Be as thorough as possible to avoid problems down the road.
11. Restrictions on who the child(ren) is allowed to see and stay with
If you feel your child(ren) can’t be trusted to stay alone with a friend of your co-parent or some specific family member, regardless of the reasons, be clear and upfront about it. Consider you might also want to establish the type of person who is allowed to babysit your child(ren) in order to avoid problems.
12. Extracurricular Activities
These activities take up a lot of time and depend widely on children’s interests, but they may interfere with the visitation schedule, or may simply make parents disagree on the type of activities, so specify how you will deal with the issue when it arises. Do both parents need to be in agreement about the extracurricular activity, or will one parent be allowed to make the decision alone? Can it conflict with visitation schedule? What if it is too expensive or time demanding (weekend competition, for example)?
13. Attending Events for/with your Child
The piano recital, the soccer game or the swimming competition are examples of events you both will want to participate in if your child is involved. Agree on who will attend the events, if you will do it alternately, if you have one type of events and the co-parent another type, or even the rules if you both decide to attend (seating and socializing together or apart?).
50/50 Parenting Plan Examples
The following schedule examples were taken from Custody XChange, a software that allows you to create personalized custody schedules and professional parenting plan documents. But there are other options online such as www.verywellfamily.com, or www.childcustodycoach.com both referring to the pros and cons of each model. All you have to do is work out which schedule is better suited for your situation.
In 50/50 schedules the child spends time living with both parents, which is beneficial, as a closer bond is established with both parents and the child feels wanted, loved and cared for by both parents.
These schedules work best when parents live relatively close to each other and the school and are able to communicate with each other about their child amicably, making it easier for the child to transition from one home to the other. Parents must be committed to making the schedule work and put their child’s interest first.
The alternating weeks schedule has your child spending one week with one parent and the next week with the other parent.
The 2 weeks each schedule has your child spend 2 weeks with one parent and then 2 weeks with the other parent.
The 3-4-4-3 schedule has your child spend 3 days with one parent, 4 days with the other parent, 4 days with the first parent and then 3 days with the other parent.
Parenting Plan Templates
Take a look at some templates of the parenting plans available. Some are informal documents written by the co-parents, others are court-issued documents, meant to serve as guidelines for the drafting of your own parenting plan. When writing your own document take into account your own circumstances and ask for information from the family court of your area of residence. This link allows you to see templates according to State, so it might be worth it having a look.
In any circumstance, keep in mind that you are not doing this to punish or mistreat the co-parent, but to provide your child(ren) with the best possible parenting. Make sure both parents have a signed copy of the agreement, even if you do not need to present it to the court. Be advised that in some jurisdictions it may be necessary to file a parenting plan with the court if you plan on sharing custody of a minor, and you might both need to sign the parenting plan in front of a notary public, so check with your local family court if this applies to your situation.