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The Divorce Encyclopedia
Co-Parenting Plan

Term Definition Co-Parenting Plan - a plan for cooperatively raising the children after the divorce.
Application in Divorce No part of a divorce can be more difficult than parenting after the marriage is over. When parents are married and together, parenting, though not easy, has the advantage of redundancy and reinforcement. Both parents are present to back up each other. In divorce, this reinforcement is lost. A parenting plan cannot substitute for the on-site parenting, but it can cool the friction points formerly married spouses frequently encounter as the co-parent the children of their marriage.

Regardless of how custody is decided -- joint and split legal and physical and/or sole legal and physical -- parents need a co-parenting plan. A parenting schedule or plan, which are the terms used by courts since the mid-1990s in lieu of custody and visitation, refer to parents’ time with minor children and sharing custodial rights and responsibilities.

A good parenting plan goes a long way toward eliminating issues that can become inflammatory because it makes explicit the terms and conditions of custody and visitation, which are two friction points between divorced couples.

The parenting plan, which is normally incorporated with the marital settlement agreement, has the force of a court order.

Within reason, spouses can write anything into the plan. No one right plan exists; anything that works is fine.

A co-parenting plans spells out living arrangements and decision making.

A good plan is necessary because of the inherent difficulties of parenting in the context of divorce. It is well to remember that courts approve a variety of custody arrangements, both physical and legal. Courts must decide both the legal and physical custody of children and may split these responsibilities, so that one parent may have sole legal custody or both may share it and that one parent may have sole physical custody or both may share it. Variations of both called "joint," "split," "and "shared" physical and legal custody are also part of the mosaic of custody and visitation routines approved by courts.

Very often one parent has physical custody and both share legal custody, but in any event the willingness of the parents to cooperate with each other pleases judges who are more than willing to cooperate with the parents. When one parent is custodial but both share legal custody, a co-parenting plan is even more important. Normally, a plan stands upon the legs of physical custody, which defines and declares the child’s residency, and legal custody, which is the right to make legal decisions for the child regarding education, health care, religion, and his or her general welfare. But the plan walks, so to speak, upon the willingness of the parents to "go the extra mile" with each other. Unstated in a good plan is the realization by both mother and father that although they are no longer husband and wife, each is both still a parent, and if one of them hurts the other, he or she hurts the child.

While parenting is more difficult because the spouses are now seldom together to reinforce one another, it is self-evident that children benefit when their parents can get along.

A parenting plan deals with the nuts and bolts of custody arrangements and the specifics of visitation by the noncustodial parent, such as schooling, special days and dates and contact by noncustodial parent. The plan is often built around a core schedule of hours and days when the noncustodial parent takes charge of the children.

The terms and conditions of medical insurance coverage and extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses for the children are normally described in the marital separation agreement, but the parenting plan may reference medical care, providing that each parent keep the other informed about the child’s routine visits to the doctor.

Some parenting plans also establish protocols for grandparent visitation. They may include agreements about third-party care of the children. They may establish limits on television watching, bedtimes, rules for homework.

Some plans now specifically include email as a designated communication link between children and the noncustodial parent, and designate a set time of the day for the noncustodial parent to call the child on the telephone.

The introduction of new partners into the lives of small children can be very difficult for a youngster, so a parenting plan may deal with dating and establish dating accords, including sleepover protocols for new partners.

A good parenting plan is specific enough to be useful, but general enough to be flexible.

See Parenting Time

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