The Role of Parenting Plans
Key Points
  • Parenting plans are an agreement between the parties regarding parenting issues and responsibilities.
  • Parenting plans can be as basic or extensive as the parents deem necessary. Parenting plans can include restrictions, contact with the child, safety issues, medical care, sports activities, and the plan can even restrict relocation.
  • It is always best to be in agreement with parenting, but if parents are not in agreement, the court will intervene and use a standard plan which may or may not be what the parents desire.
A parenting plan spells out the terms and conditions of custody and visitation when parents divorce or separate.

A parenting plan spells out the terms and conditions of custody and visitation when parents divorce or separate. The plan allows parents to avoid conflict arising from divorced parenting and its responsibilities. Without explicit agreements about these responsibilities, disputes often arise, and costly litigation may be the result. When parents do not comply with the parenting plan, the court is then forced to make decisions about the children's lives and create a parenting plan of its own. Parents can consider including binding arbitration in their parenting plan. In this routine, an arbitrator makes the same decisions that a judge would, in order to avoid the courts in the future.

When the parents agree to the terms and conditions before a court hearing, the agreement is called stipulated. The court can approve the stipulated parenting plan without a hearing, and judges normally encourage parties to reach an agreement, rather than go to hearing.

Most states statutorily require that court-ordered parenting plans set forth the minimum amount of parenting time and access a non-custodial parent must have. A court order without a minimum time stipulation can lead to an appeal in a higher court.

The parenting plan is usually a part of the divorce order. Parents can later modify the existing parenting plan by filing a new request with the court when circumstances, such as parent relocation, child abuse issues, or health problems may arise.

In most jurisdictions, the standard short-distance visitation plan consists of alternating weekends and some holidays. Some medium and long-distance parenting plans may allow consolidated visits that reduce traveling. Parents can normally make variations to the state standard parenting plan or develop a different customized plan if the judge approves the changes.

At or around the age of 13, depending on the state, the child may have a right to testify in court about custody and parenting plan arrangements.

Parenting plans can also include various restrictions and general notes about parents' contact with the child, like regulation of safety issues, medical care, sports attendance, and many more. Sometimes, a parenting plan has a restriction on a parent’s relocation, or a waiver from state rules allowing parents to relocate without request.

Some topics, such as the amount of child support and health insurance, may be regulated by state law. Others require that the spouses negotiate. Thus the law and their decisions come together to form a parenting plan. These issues include the following:

  • Parenting time, which is physical custody.
  • Decision making, which is legal custody.
  • Overnights and visitation, which is a key facet of a parenting plan.
  • Transportation and exchanges, which deals with the movement of a child from his or her custodial parent to the non-custodial parent.
  • Annual vacations and school breaks, which are normally divided between the parents.
  • Child support, which may be spelled out in the divorce agreement.
  • A dispute resolution process, which may involve stipulating a mediator or arbitrator.
  • Schools attended and access to records, which usually involve joint decisions.
  • Physical and mental health care, which may involve out–of- pocket expenses.
  • Contact Information, relocation and foreign travel, which may create friction between the parents.
  • Social activities and school functions, which are often important in keeping the non-custodial parent involved the lives of the children.
  • Communications and mutual decision-making, which can be tied to the dispute resolution.
  • Mediation and arbitration, which can be tied to the dispute resolution.
  • Medical insurance and related expenses, which may be subject to state law.
  • Contact with relatives and significant others, which helps a child maintain a sense of family.
  • Taxes and Wills, which are considerations in any family, intact or not.

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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