Parenting Plan Basics

When women include a parenting plan in their divorce papers, they can avoid many power struggles by laying out how the details of the children's lives are handled.

By Tracy Achen, Divorce Coach

You may be wondering why you have to go into such detail about your parenting arrangement, especially if everything is amicable right now. But people change, especially after divorce, and there is a good chance that you and your ex may not always agree about everything concerning the children in the future.

For example, if your soon-to-be ex embraces a new religion and wants the children to convert to that faith, how will it be handled? Who will get to decide if your daughter will go to a public or private school, and how will the tuition be paid. By outlining some of the major stumbling blocks before they ever happen, parents can prevent a lot of future disputes.

If you want to write your own parenting plan based on the information below, you can use a service such as Rocket Lawyer to customize the document to your needs.  You can get started here. (*We may earn a commission for purchases made using our links).

So what should be included in your agreement? At a minimum, you should consider addressing the following issues in your parenting plan:

1. Parenting Principles 

This outlines parental behavior in an effort to reduce the impact of divorce on your children. First of all, you should agree that your children will be shielded from any disagreement you have with your ex. Also, each parent should be informed of any changes to the other parent's telephone number, home, or work address.

It is common to include a section restricting a parent from using illegal drugs in the presence of the children or involving a child in inappropriate situations. It's also a good idea to include how the children's extra-curricular activities will be handled, as well as the various methods of communication between the non-custodial parent and the children.

2. Parenting time or visitation schedule

This maps out when the children will spend time with the non-custodial parent. With a standard visitation schedule, the children usually spend every other weekend and one evening during the week with the non-custodial parent. But parents can work out a different schedule that suits their needs and those of their children. 

3. Visitation exchanges

Some parents choose to include details on how and where the children will be dropped off or picked up for visitation, especially if there is ongoing conflict. If you address this issue, be sure to spell out how notification of any changes to the plan will be handled.

4. Visitation schedule for holidays

You will also need to address where your children will spend birthdays and major holidays. A workable solution is to alternate the major holidays. For example, the children would spend Thanksgiving with their father and Christmas day with their mother one year, and then switch who they spend these holidays with the next year.

Common courtesy dictates that the children should be with their father on Father's Day and with the mother on Mother's Day. For a child's birthday, meeting at a public facility seems to work the best, as each parent is on neutral ground.

5. Summer Vacations

The children will usually spend an extended period of time with the non-custodial parent during the summer. It's a good idea to outline how long this period will be, when it starts, and how soon the other parent will need to be notified of any changes to the plan.

6. Child Support

Even though child support is addressed in the child support order, it's a good idea to include language in your parenting plan addressing certain issues concerning the support of the children. You should include a provision requiring the support to be paid through the state child support division, and address how delinquent child support will be handled. 

7. Access to Records

Both parents should have access to all school records and be informed of all school activities. Additionally, both parents should have access to all medical records and be notified of any major medical procedures. And both parents should have the authority to make emergency medical decisions.

8. Medical Expenses

It's a good idea to outline which parent will be responsible for medical insurance for the child, how uninsured medical expenses will be paid, and the time-frame for reimbursing the other parent for out of pocket medical expenses.

9. Educational Expenses

Having a plan on how educational expenses will be handled will save a lot of headache in the future. You can address the costs of private tuition, college expenses, and more in your parenting plan.

10. Parenting Plan Relocation Provisions

A relocation by the custodial parent is an issue that causes a lot of disputes for many parents long after the divorce. You should consider including a relocation clause in your divorce, how visitation will be handled if one parent moves away, and who will pay for the travel expense for long-distance visitation.

11. Custody and Visitation Modifications

Your visitation schedule will change over time as your children get older and there is the possibility that your child may want to live with the other parent later on. You should discuss how modifications to the custody and visitation arrangements will be handled in the future. You should also include the Uniform Child Custody and Jurisdiction Act (which addresses interstate custody and visitation issues) in your parenting plan.

These are just a few provisions to incorporate into your parenting plan and there are other things that should be included according to your unique situation. To get started, most states have templates for parenting plans which can be accessed on the internet, or your attorney should have a basic plan that you can customize.

You might also consider using software such as a custody calendar for tracking everything, including the frequency of visitation and receipt of child support. It really does make it easy to organize all your important custody-related information. 

For more insight into custody and visitation, check out the following articles: