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Why You Need a Parenting Plan

As part of your divorce, if you have children, you will need a parenting plan.

What is that?

A parenting plan is the bible you will follow for rules about parenting time, visitation, and how to handle the various issues that you'll run into when raising children in separate households.

It is important that you create a detailed plan that addresses as many issues as possible.

Why? Because it'll reduce conflict and make life for you, your ex, and your children SO MUCH easier.

So, what should be included in your parenting plan?

Keep reading…

Creating a Parenting Plan

Table of Contents

Decision Making

Who will make the major decisions for your children?  Will you and your spouse share major decisions?

Should you be the sole decision-maker?

And what counts as a major decision?

Major decisions are those such as education, religion, medical, major discipline and the like.

If you share decision making, it is important to specify as many details as possible regarding these major issues.

Decision Making

For example:

If you know the school district your children will be in, it is a good idea to specify it in the agreement.

Do you have a decision on religion? Best to specify it in the agreement.

Will discipline be handled differently between households?

  • Will both parents honor the other’s punishment after a parenting time exchange?
  • Will you and your ex have a discussion before a punishment is handed out? These are good things to consider specifying in your parenting plan.

It is also a good idea to address what will happen if you and your soon to be ex-spouse cannot reach an agreement on a particular issue such as choice of school.

Will you empower someone else to be the “tie-breaker”?

Will you state that a change in schools must be within a certain district?

These are items that need to be thoroughly addressed.

Next...

let’s talk about one of the more specific elements of the parenting plan and co-parenting in general.

Parenting Time

It is very important to be specific as to parenting time.  You should include when each parent will have the children, the exchange time for commencement of parenting time, and how exchanges will be accomplished.

Parenting Time

You also need to have a clear detailed agreement on holidays and vacation times.  Simply stating that you will alternate Christmas is not adequate;

Without this detail, you will run into issues and likely more legal fees.

You may be wondering:

“What other details do I need?”

You should include things such as when the Christmas Holiday commences, when it ends, when and where the children will be exchanged.

How about the right of first refusal?

If something comes up during your ex's parenting time, such as a work trip...

Should they have to give you the opportunity to exercise parenting time before considering other options?

With parenting time exchanges comes communication between parents…

A lot of times it’s difficult for divorced parents to communicate civilly. It is easy to butt heads when it comes to school, medical, extracurricular activities, discipline, schedule changes, etc.

This is why co-parenting tools like Talking Parents and Our Family Wizard exist. They can help both parents keep important information organized and available to each other.

Also…

These tools allow attorneys or a designated third-party to access communication between the parties, which is very useful for keeping parents accountable in the way they communicate.

What about contact with the children?

There can be a provision covering contact between the absent parent and the child both during regular parenting time and during vacation times.

  • When and how often can the absent parent contact the children?
  • How should they communicate? Text? Call? Facetime? Email?
  • Can the present parent listen in on the communication?

Parenting time exchanges usually involve travel. Continue reading for information about transportation.

Travel

Parenting plans can also include a requirement that when one parent travels, all information about the trip is provided to the other parent.

What if the parents live in different states?

Travel Suitcase

Will the parent travel to the child or the child to the parent?

How will travel expenses be paid?

If the child is flying:

  • Which parent is responsible for making travel arrangements?
  • Should they be accompanied by an airline employee?
  • Do the parents need to notify each other about ticket purchases, drop-offs, and pickups from the airport?

Speaking of travel, lets talk about vacations...

Vacations

For vacations, which usually take precedence over regular parenting time, how long will vacation time be?

Can you use the other parent’s parenting time?

Vacation on a beach

Are the allotted vacation days to be taken consecutively or can those days be broken up?

Be aware that usually, holidays take precedence over vacation time and regular parenting time.

Can you deviate from the parenting time schedule?

You and your ex can always alter the schedule, but it is a good idea to do it in writing, so you are both sure about what you have agreed to.  It is important to have a parenting plan because if there is conflict you have a written order you can follow.

Some other travel considerations:

Can you or the other party take the children out of the country?

Who will hold on to the children’s passports?

Now let’s talk about something we can all agree on. Children are expensive

Shared Expenses

Parenting plans should include details about expenses that you will share for the children, such as extracurricular activities, school trips, religious ceremonies and the like.

What proportionate share will each parent pay?

Shared Expenses

Should there be a cap on certain expenses, such as extracurricular activities?

How will a parent be reimbursed for expenses?

What time frame will reimbursement occur within?

Who gets to claim the children on their taxes?

Okay…

Anything Else?

Some additional things:

  • Is a parenting plan enforceable?
    • So long as the parenting plan is approved as an order of court it is enforceable.  It is important to have details in the plan, such as when holidays begin and end, so the plan has teeth.
Computer with Question mark on screen
  • What happens if a parent violates a parenting plan?
    • There are various remedies.  If you can prove the plan was violated, the remedies of contempt or make up parenting time are available.
  • Can a parenting plan be modified?
    • Generally speaking, a plan is modifiable by written agreement of the parties or order of the court.  There are restrictions on when and how this is accomplished.
  • What are the different types of parenting time schedules and how do they work?
    • There are as many different plans are there are divorces!
    • Plans can include parenting time every other weekend with mid-week visits, or an equal time-sharing arrangement.
    • Holidays should follow what is important to a particular family.  For example, if you are the same religion and both celebrate Christmas, some choose to divide Christmas Eve and Day, some choose to alternate the entire holiday.
  • Child support must also be addressed.
  • You should include information such as which parent will carry medical insurance.

There is a myriad of details that should be covered in a parenting plan, most of which people don’t think about until an issue arises.

Those issues, having not been included in your plan, can lead to added stress or even additional attorney fees in order to resolve them.

It can also have negative effects on your children.

Many of the issues Family Law attorneys deal with on a daily basis are the result of a poorly written plan.

Or not having a plan in place at all…

That is why it is important to work with an experienced family attorney to develop a plan that is tailored to the specific needs of your family.

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Laura E. Shapiro - Senior Attorney

Laura Shapiro, with her 40+ years of experience, knows how to draft a plan that will help minimize issues down the road. Which will save you stress, time and money.