Written by attorney Cathleen Elisabeth Norton

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a written agreement about child custody and visitation. It sets forth the custodial rights of both parents and includes both legal and physical.

Legal custody refers to the legal right to make decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the children.

Physical custody refers to where your children will live, and the amount of time each parent will spend with the children.

If both parties share joint physical custody, then you have to write a parenting plan to specify what days and times each parent will have custody of the children.

Your parenting plan becomes a court order after it is signed by both parents and the judge.

Tips for creating your parenting plan

Consider the needs, age and personalities of your children: Be willing to adjust the parenting plan if it is not working.

Ask yourself:

  • How long can my children go without seeing the other parent?
  • How many transitions can they handle?
  • How far does the other parent live?
  • How long will the commute to the other parent’s house be?
  • What are the work schedules of both parents?
  • Where should the children be during the school week? On weekends?
  • How are we going to divide the summer break and holidays?
  • Which parent will be in charge of extracurricular activities?
  • Which parent is likely to do homework with the children and get them to school on-time?

Tips for toddlers

Younger children have a different concept of time than older children and they often need to see each parent regularly. Consistency helps your children understand that the other parent is not leaving them and will help to foster a greater sense of security in them. They need to count on a regular routine.

Tips for making your parenting plan work

Everyone in your family will do better when the parenting plan is clear and the court orders are followed. Use a calendar to write down your parenting plan. Put it in a place that is easy to see. If you need to change the parenting plan, you must talk to the other parent and reach an agreement. Otherwise, you are technically in violation of a court order regarding custody.

Watch your children and be willing to make slight changes to physical custody if you see that it would benefit your children. For example, you may find out that an earlier or later time of exchange would work better for them. If they are in extracurricular activities at school or sports activities, then you need to be flexible with the other parent so that your children don’t get caught up in the battle.

Even parents who are not divorced do not always agree on what is best for their children. This is natural. The key is to do what is best for your children and avoid putting them in the middle of your arguments with the other parent.

Changing your parenting plan

You may need to change your parenting plan when your children get older and things in their lives change. Talk it over with the other parent or see a counselor to help you. If you cannot agree to modify a parenting plan that does not work, you may have to leave it to the family law judge to decide what parenting plan is best for your children.

Remember, changes to the custodial timeshare will likely change the amount of child support you pay or are entitled to.

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