Parenting plans have been adopted by courts all around the world to deal with issues regarding the children following divorce. Courts prefer them because divorcees are more likely to abide by the arrangement if both parties have agreed to it ahead of time.
What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a legal document that is required in the U.S. as part of the separation agreement whenever children are involved in a divorce. It outlines things such as child custody schedules, parenting responsibilities, and other aspects of how the children will be raised and cared for. A parenting plan can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, though it must contain certain basic information.
How to create a parenting plan
Some states provide their own parenting plan forms, though you can usually create your own so long as it addresses all the basics required. This information is designed to provide a simple, step-by-step outline that parents can follow to create a parenting plan. Simply print the form and come to an agreement on these things with your former spouse. When you’re done you might want to type it up, but otherwise this information will give you all you need to create a functional parenting plan.
Do I need a lawyer to create a parenting plan?
No. Parenting plans are created by the parents themselves with the assistance of a divorce mediator or arbitrator in most cases. However, many parents elect to have a lawyer look over the plan before it is ratified.
Parenting plan checklist: What to include in a parenting plan
The worksheet below will give you a basic outline that makes it easy to create an all-encompassing parenting plan. As you go through the following items, try to imagine yourself in each scenario. You might even role play with your ex as if it were happening, which can help you discover caveats to include that you might not otherwise think of.
The examples provided in this section are just that: examples. They can be modified however you’d like, and should be to accommodate your unique desires and custody situation. Feel free to add in your own clauses if there are things important to you that aren’t addressed. Also keep in mind that in amicable divorces, there’s no need to make this plan especially rigid or specific. You can write flexibility and cooperation into your parenting plan just as easily as anything else. It should be detailed enough to provide an outline yet flexible enough to accommodate the realities of life.
Section 1: Child Custody
- Type of custody: (Joint legal custody, joint physical custody, sole custody, visitation, supervised visitation, etc.)
- The % of split (60/40, 80/20, 50/50, etc.):
Typical Custody Schedule:
|Day of the week||Mother’s Parenting Time||Father’s Parenting Time|
|Monday||Example: All day|
|Saturday||Example: All day|
|Sunday||Example: Afternoon & Evening||Example: Morning|
For visitation schedules, this will apply….Every week / Every other week / specify:
- Is there an alternate custody schedule for summer & school breaks?
- Child custody arrangements surrounding holidays & special occasions, and any special accommodations that will be made at this time: Example: Father will have the kids on Father’s Day & his birthday; Mother on Mother’s Day & her birthday. Children’s birthdays will be held in a neutral location and include activities both parents can attend together. Parents will split custody on Christmas, with one parent getting the kids until 2 p.m. on Christmas day, the other parent from 2 p.m. onwards. Child custody on other holidays will be alternated year by year.
- Where & how will child custody exchanges occur? (Where they take place, procedures if a parent is late, guidelines for working out scheduling conflicts & procedures for how a scheduling change should be communicated to the other parent, how to adjust parenting time if a visitation is missed; Who can be allowed to drop off a child or pick them up, etc.) Example: Child custody exchanges will occur at the other parent’s house. Each parent must give advanced notice if anyone besides the parent will be dropping off or picking up. Parents agree to allow a grace period of 20 minutes on custody exchanges; if a parent is late beyond that period they will need to pick up the child wherever the other parent is or at their convenience.
- How will it be handled if one parent wants to take the kids on a special vacation? (Amount of notice given, adjustments to parenting time or custody schedules, etc.) Example: Each parent will be allotted 1 special vacation each year of up to 14 days. If this takes away from the other parent’s scheduled parenting time, this lost time will be made up in a reasonable manner if they do not plan on taking a similar excursion with the kids.
- In the case of an unforeseen event (a parent’s hospitalization, illness, etc.) that render a parent unavailable, how will these be handled? Will they receive made up parenting time? If so, how?
- How should it be handled if a child is sick or needs to be picked up from school early?
- How will custody be handled on school vacations, snow days, half days, or other breaks from school? Example: Parents will split responsibility for custody on all off days from school.
- Will any accommodations be made to the child’s visitation or custody schedule as they grow older, or as their interests change?
Section 2: Travel & Living Arrangements
- Procedures for traveling with a child: Example: Each parent agrees to give the other parent 2 weeks notice before taking the child out of state or out of the country. They will provide a travel schedule to the other parent and inform them upon their safe return.
Note: In some cases written consent by the other parent allowing the child to travel may be required; check the laws in your country.
- Where will the child reside?
- Do the parents agree to live within a certain distance from each other?
- What should happen if one parent wants to relocate? How much notice should be given? How should this affect custody arrangements? Example: Each party will give the parent 30 days notice prior to a move. The other parent has the right to protest the move or seek a change in custody arrangements in response to the move.
- Are there any rules for who else can reside in a household when the child is there?
- What will the arrangements be in terms of each child’s personal space?
- How will a child’s belongings be handled on moves between homes? What about lost or damaged property? Example: Each parent will provide the child with adequate personal property in their own house. Any items the child brings back and forth they bring at their own risk. The other parent won’t be responsible for lost or damaged items.
Section 3: Child support & other considerations
- Child support will be determined by…
__The standard payments set out by the state;
__The following alternate child support arrangement is agreed to:
- How will the child’s medical insurance and/or medical care be provided for?
- Who will claim the child as a dependent on their taxes?
- How will individual purchases (school supplies, extracurricular activities, child necessities, etc.) be handled?
- How will one parent be compensated if they make a purchase or pay a fee that both parents (or the other parent) is responsible for?
- Are there any expenses not covered by child support, and if so, how will these be handled? Example: Any costs for medical care, therapy, tutoring, orthodontic treatment, or other things deemed essential for the child’s welfare will be split between parents. If one parent can’t pay, the other may choose to cover the full cost and work out an alternate payment.
- Will any arrangements be made for a child’s college fund? Example: Each parent agrees to pay $100 per month into a money market fund dedicated to the kids’ college education.
- Guidelines on gifts (how to coordinate gifts to the child or the child’s gifts to others): Example: Any gifts over $50 will be discussed and coordinated with the other parent ahead of time. Parents agree to evenly split the cost for gifts on a child’s birthday and Christmas.
Section 4: Parenting
Decisions about the child will be made…
__ By the custodial parent
__ Individually (i.e., whichever parent has the child at the time makes the decisions)
__ Individually, but with consulting the other parent
- Who will take the initiative when it comes to school issues or medical care? Will different parents take the lead on different decisions?
- If parenting disputes arise, how will they be settled? Example: If a dispute arises that cannot be settled between the parents, we agree to try to settle it through counseling with a private therapist. Each party will pay half the cost of these sessions. If it still cannot be resolved, both parties agree to have the issue decided by binding arbitration without going to court.
- What daily routines should the children adhere to? (Bedtime routines, sleeping arrangements, eating and sleeping cycles, bath times & bathing, etc.)
- How will your kids be supervised? (Are they allowed out on their own, at what age can they stay home alone, procedures for checking in with a parent, etc.)
- Safety precautions parents agree to adhere to: (Car seats, bike helmets, etc.)
- What should your standards be for diet and exercise? (How often should they eat out, how much time should be spent outdoors, how you’ll ensure a balanced diet, etc.)
- Standards for alcohol & tobacco use around the children:
- What rules will we try to adhere to for media use? Example: Kids will be allowed up to 3 hours of media use per day on school nights after their homework is completed.
- What extracurricular activities will the children participate in, and how will these be coordinated/paid for? Example: Children will be allowed to participate in whatever activities they desire. Parents will discuss any extracurricular commitments together before enrolling a child. If one parent wants a child to participate in something the other parent doesn’t, he or she will pay for it out of their own pocket. Both parents agree to do their best to accommodate these activities across custody schedules.
- What are the rules for sleepovers and spending time at friends’ homes?
- If there are any family pets, where will they reside, or will they move between homes?
- Will the children have an allowance, and if so, how will this be provided for:
- How will homework be handled: Example: Homework assigned on weekdays will fall on the shoulder of whichever parent has custody. If the child has a project due on Monday, whomever has custody on Saturday and/or Sunday will assume responsibility for ensuring it gets done.
- Culture & religion: (What religion [if any] will the child be raised in? Are there any special religious observances? What about culture? Language? Are there any cultural events you want accommodated for?) Example: Each parent will be allowed to attend their own church with the child and expose them to their own religious beliefs. If the faiths of each parent differ, it will be left to the child to ultimately decide their religion. Each parent will also be allowed to expose the child to their own culture.
- What chores and/or responsibilities will the children have at each household?
- What accommodations will be made when a teen reaches driving age? Will they get their own car, and if so, how will this cost be covered? What about teen driving contracts? Who will teach them to drive?
- Stipulations regarding activities & special events: Example: If one parent really wants to do something with a child (see a particular movie, take them to a special event, etc.) they’ll inform the other parent, who will refrain from doing that activity. If both have a strong interest in the same activity, they’ll arrange to do it together.
Section 5: Discipline
- Types of discipline parents agree to use: Example: Logical consequences, time out, revocation of privileges, grounding. No corporal punishment.
- How will discipline be coordinated across both households? Example: Each parent will try not to undermine the other parent’s discipline efforts. We will also try to provide continuity in discipline between homes, so long as it does not cause an excessive burden on the other parent.
- What rules and expectations will you have for the children’s behavior?
Section 6: Communication
- How will you communicate with each other? Example: Parents will communicate by phone, text message, or private Internet chat for child-related issues. Email will be used only as a last resort. Parents will communicate on a weekly basis or whenever issues come up. Parents agree not to use the children as messengers to deliver communications to the other parent.
- Things you want the other parent to communicate with you about: Example: Any communications from teachers or the school; any injuries a child sustains; any complaints the child makes about friends, school, or how they feel; all medical information; changes in address or phone numbers; travel plans the other parent has, any problems or discipline issues they are having.
- Procedure to communicate during an emergency: Example: The parent with custody will try to reach the other parent by any means necessary, leaving voicemails and text messages & continuing to call until they get through.
- Things that qualify as an emergency: Car accidents, injuries to a child that require medical treatment, a missing child.
- How will children be allowed to communicate with the other parent while at one parent’s house? Example: Kids can call, Skype, text message, chat or email.
- What’s a reasonable limit on parent-child communication: Example: Kids will be allowed up to 2 phone calls totaling no more than 20 minutes and/or “Skype” sessions per day. Further communication will be encouraged so long as it doesn’t become disruptive to the other parent’s time with their children.
Section 7: Health & Medical Care
- How will medical appointments & medical decisions be made?
- Who will make decisions in the event of a medical emergency?
- Will the child keep one doctor, or have multiple doctors?
- Who will be responsible for taking the child to doctor and dental appointments?
- What is the procedure for making appointments during the other parent’s custody time? Example: Each parent will try to schedule an appointment during their own parenting time. If this isn’t possible, they’ll have the doctor call the other parent to schedule a visit, or will check with them beforehand.
- How will medications and special medical regimens (Epipens, nebulizers, etc.) be handled across households? Example: Any necessary medications will travel with the child, & parents will maintain a medicine diary to ensure medications are given at the proper time and any adverse reactions can be tracked.
Section 8: Schools & child care
- Schools and/or child care centers the child will attend:
- How will parents choose a new school or child care center? Example: School decisions will be discussed jointly; child-care centers and babysitters will be picked by each parent in their respective area. Babysitters must be at least 16 years of age.
- Who will attend parent-teacher conferences and other school events? Example: Both parents will attend all conferences and school events they can attend.
- What are the guidelines on school absences (i.e., when is it acceptable to remove a child from school):
- Will both parents be allowed access to all school and child care records and/or facilities? If not, explain:
- What grade point average will the children be expected to maintain, & what steps will be taken if they fall below this point? How will you decide if tutoring is needed? How will this be paid for?
Recommended clause: Each parent agrees to offer the other parent the right of first refusal, which means that if they aren’t available to care for the children during their scheduled parenting time, the other parent is offered the chance to take the kids before resorting to outside care.
Section 9: Extended relationships
- When is it appropriate to introduce someone you are dating to the children?
- What role will these people play in custody exchanges or other contact with the children and/or other parent? Example: People a partner is dating will play no role in custody swaps or exchanges involving the children. People engaged to and/or married to one parent, however, will be treated as a parental figure.
- Guidelines for fostering contact with grandparents & extended relatives: Example: Visitation with each family’s relatives will try to be scheduled during that parent’s custody time. However, each parent will do their best to allow communication and visitation with the other side’s relatives whenever feasible so long as it doesn’t disrupt that parent’s custody time.
- Will all family members be invited to your child’s birthday parties & other special events?
- Are there any family members you’d like restricted or supervised around the children?
Other parenting plan considerations:
- If a child has special needs, how will these be addressed or accommodated for? How will decisions be reached in terms of treatment, medical care, or other services needed? How will these be paid for? Who will advocate on behalf of the child if the parents can’t agree on a specific treatment?
- When parents live in different states, one state will have jurisdiction over this parenting plan and the laws of that state will apply.
- You can put in place a temporary parenting plan when you first separate and rewrite it later after you’ve hashed over these issues or had a chance to encounter some of the challenges you’ll face.
- This plan can be modified and adjusted as necessary when situations arise that demand it, so long as both parties agree to the changes.
- If disputes arise over any aspect of this parenting plan, the situation will attempt to be resolved through an independent counselor or mediator first. If that fails, the matter will be settled through arbitration.
You’re welcome to copy this text into your own document file and adjust it as desired, keeping the clauses you like and rewriting the examples to fit your own unique situation. It’s an easy way to prepare your own unique individualized parenting plan. (If you’re reading this on a copyright protected e-book, our online page has text you can copy.)