Putting a Parenting Plan in Writing
Key Points
  • It is always a good idea to have a parenting plan in writing and not rely on a verbal agreeement. Issues such as who has the children on what holidays, birthdays or special events all should be addressed in writing inside the parenting plan.
  • The issue of travel time should not be overlooked in parenting plans.

There really is no standard visitation schedule out there, so almost all visitation schedules and parenting plans are improvisational to one degree or another.

The difficulty becomes creating a visitation schedule that both parties find accessible and one that allows each parent to be active in their children’s lives. It’s important for each parent to remember that whatever child visitation schedule is drafted and adopted by the parents, it’s not about the parents; it’s for the children. Every child deserves to have both parents in his or her life and be loved by both parents. Neither parent should actively work to limit the time a child gets to spend with the other parent, nor should they seek to spread ill will towards the other parent.

Generally speaking, both parents have a hand in the raising of the children and both parents want to remain a part of their children’s lives. A child visitation schedule is the calendar of events for the daily activities of the lives of children. It shows where the child is during days, evenings, weekends, holidays and any other special events or occurrences. The schedule that the parents create is made up of the agreed upon times that the child will spend with each of them. The main things to consider in the visitation schedule are the frequency of visits, holidays, school vacations and other events, and transit time between parents.

One of the first things parents must decide is how often the child will spend time with each parent. When two parents share custody, the child often splits their time between each evenly. When one parent is the primary parent, and for whatever reason, the other parent does not follow a 50/50 custody schedule or share parenting responsibilities equally, the child may only spend a small portion of their time with this parent. This may be only a few hours on a couple evenings during the week or perhaps an overnight on the weekend. The important thing is to spell out exactly the frequency of the events.

Both parents usually want to spend some holidays with the child, and it’s important to remember that holiday memories should be made with both parents. No parent should monopolize all holidays with a child. Holidays are all about memories and each parent should have an opportunity to make those memories with their child. Holiday visitation times should be explicitly spelled out and followed. Holiday time is often part of the court decree or mediation, so both parties need to make sure they follow this part of the schedule.

Like holidays, school vacations are extended periods of time when the child is free during the day. This presents opportunities for parents to spend full days with their children. Likewise, since the majority of school vacation happens during the summer, this is a perfect opportunity for parents to take summer vacations with their children. Some parents split summers since the block of time is much larger. Other parents have learned to alternate entire summers. Summer vacations are an opportunity for creative visitation routines.

Birthdays, anniversaries, and other special days are often a grey area that should be considered as well. Not only will the parents want to spend the child’s birthday with them, they may also want the child to spend the parent’s birthday with them. Both parents need to be flexible to each other’s requested days since these days are important to either parent, and should not be discounted.

Parents often overlook transit time - the time that it takes to get from one parent’s home to the other. So if one parent has the child from 5 to 9 on a Wednesday evening, does that mean that the child has to be home at his custodial parent’s home by 9 when that parent lives an hour or more away? If the parents are that far apart, transit can consume 15-25% of visitation time, if not more. When calculating the time spent with each parent, transit time must be taken into consideration.

There is no right or wrong way to write a parenting plan. A basic plan might be started by adding pertinent information to the following categories:

  • Custody: Very often the mother has physical custody and the parents share joint legal custody.
  • Visitation: Might be two nights a week for a few hours in the evening and one day in the weekend for a few hours.
  • Holidays and Vacations, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Spring Vacations and religious holidays such as Passover
  • Birthdays: Parents might agree to split birthdays.
  • Schooling: Parents usually agree to keep each other informed about progress and difficulties.
  • Support: Usually spelled out in the divorce agreement
  • Television: Parents sometimes want to restrict television viewing.
  • Dating: Parents may which to establish protocols for the introduction of new people in their children’s lives.
  • Dispute Resolution: This may establish protocols for resolving disputes without litigation.
  • Revisions and Updates: This may establish timetables for changes and updates.

Useful Online Tools

Suggested Reading
Creating a Successful Parenting Plan Creating a Successful Parenting Plan
This extraordinary book and computer disk offers separating or divorcing parents a sure-fire way to create a workable, practical parenting plan/agreement that is in the best interest of their children.

Author: Jayne A. Major, Ph.D.

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