Do I need a lawyer?
If your situation is simple, you may be able to draft your parenting plan without a lawyer. But, either spouse can benefit by retaining their own lawyer to review and request changes to the document. A lawyer can help you understand your state's requirements, review the agreement you and your spouse create, and even draft the entire agreement for you.
What if we can't agree?
If you can't agree on a parenting plan, you can hire a mediator to help you work out your issues. In a mediation session, a third-party helps you and your co-parent constructively discuss your disagreements so that you can arrive at an agreement that works for both of you.
In some states, mediation through family court services is required for parents who disagree, at no extra cost. You may be able to get 1–3 hours of mediation services, but if you need additional time, you will probably have to meet with a private mediator at your own expense. In other states, mediation services are not provided, so you and your co-parent will have to split the cost of a private mediator.
If mediation does not work, the judge in charge of your case can create your parenting plan in court. During this hearing, the judge decides what arrangement is in the children's best interest. This could be one parent's proposed plan, a mixture of proposed plans, or something else entirely.
However, working a parenting plan out in court, which includes filing paperwork, arranging hearings, and consulting lawyers, can become expensive and create feelings of resentment. If both parties have good intentions and a desire to work together, you can save a lot of money.