A parenting plan is an agreement made between parents that outlines how parenting time and responsibilities regarding children will be shared. At a minimum, parenting plans need to designate how much time the children will spend with each parent. However, good parenting plans should not stop there. While the details will differ depending on the situation: age of children, school status, safety concerns, special needs, and distance between residences, they need to be complete, clear, understandable, and precise enough to give the children needed stability, and the parents a way to plan and make decisions about the future. Good plans can endure the arguments, stress, emotions, and other potential hazards that can derail even the best of intentions.
So, what should a good parenting plan cover?
A COMMITMENT TO WORK TOGETHER FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE CHILDREN:
This means that each parent agrees to put the children first and do what is in the children’s best interest, despite the issues and differences the parents may have with each other. It also means cooperating and continuing to work on things set down in the plan and not specifically mentioned. Another important part of this commitment is for each parent to encourage the children to have a strong and positive relationship with the other parent.
Parenting time has replaced what used to be called “visitation”, recognizing that both parents are still the child’s parents, even after the divorce. Parenting time schedules, designating when each child will be with and under the care of each parent and how parental decision-making authority and responsibilities work when the child is under their care. This can include day-to-day decisions regarding the care and control of the children during the time the parent is caring for the children. Additionally, decisions include such things as a child’s residence, education, non-emergency health care, and emergency decisions. As to the parenting time schedules, they usually should include both a general residential day-to-day schedule and a schedule that covers situations like birthdays, holidays, vacations, and long weekends. It is important that these schedules are complete enough to help ensure that the parents and the children will know what to expect regarding when the children are with each parent.
A general residential day-to-day schedule designates with which parent the children will reside for most of the time throughout the year. It forms the backbone of the parenting time schedules and can be modified by schedules pertaining to specific days or events. The general residential schedule covers weekday and weekend schedules during the school year and also a summer schedule when the child is not in school.
Birthday, holiday, and vacation schedules specify how parenting time will be distributed for the children’s and the parent's birthdays, as well as for holidays and vacations. A long weekend schedule covers those days where school closures, such as teacher in-service days, or holidays, such as Memorial Day, Labor Day, Martin Luther King, and Presidents’ Days have added a no school day. Parenting time for the children’s birthdays and holidays commonly shift each year with which long weekend, if applicable follows the parent who has that holiday. Birthday, holiday, vacation, and long weekend schedules usually take precedence over the general residential schedule where there are conflicts.
RELOCATION OF PARENTS:
A relocation clause is an important part of a parenting plan, as long-distance parenting time can be significantly more difficult for both the parents and the children. A typical clause states that, unless there is a court order stating otherwise neither parent may move to a residence more than 60 miles further away from the other parent without giving the other parent 60 days’ notice of the change of residence and providing a copy of such notice to the court. However, the parents can agree to other stipulations regarding long-distance parenting time.
RESOLVING OTHER PARENTING TIME ISSUES:
Beyond just designating the times when each parent is with the child, these provisions can cover a variety of issues that may arise in the handling of parenting time. This includes issues regarding the transportation of the child between exchanges, such as who picks up or drops off the children, where the transfers occur (home, school, neutral site, etc. and having the children ready for the transfer (clothes, medicines, etc.). It also includes provisions for timeliness and unavoidable delays, how missed parenting time will be handled, involvement in the children’s activities, including attendance to events and sharing costs, and a process for when a parent is unable to be with the children during scheduled parenting time. Ground rules for choosing spouse, babysitters, daycare providers, and other caregivers can also be included.
NON-COMPLIANCE AND RESOLVING DISPUTES WITH THE PARENTING PLAN:
There should be provisions regarding when a parent refuses to follow the agreements in the parenting plan concerning parenting time, decision making, communication, or other issues. Enforce for failure to comply can include self-enforcement and legal enforcement penalties for non-compliance.
When legitimate disputes arise, a provision is included for a mutually agreed-upon, neutral third-party, such as a mediator, counselor, or other professional) to resolve any parenting plan disputes before filing a court action and understanding that this is not applicable in the event of an emergency or abusive circumstance.
HOW CHANGES ARE MADE TO THE PARENTING PLAN:
Many parenting plans will require changes as the children grow up. One of the most common issues that requires a change involves a child growing out of the schedule. Provisions for handling these changes can include written amendments by the parents, oral agreements to amend parenting time schedules or make temporary deviations from the parenting plan, and court amendments to the plan.
Parenting plans can be written up by the parents themselves or with help of a mediator or attorney, however, it is important to realize that neither parent may get 100% of what they want. Nevertheless, parents should negotiate honestly and be willing to make reasonable compromises in order to ensure the children get what is best for them. Because if they can’t come to an agreement, the judge will have to make it, which is not ideal for either party.
Creating a parenting plan that is future-focused can be difficult to do on your own, which is why it's important to have a seasoned attorney on your team to help outline the best path forward for both children and parents. If you would benefit from a conversation with an attorney regarding parenting plans, our team is here to help. You can call our office at (503) 227-0200 to set up your free consultation with one of our family law attorneys today.