Building the Blueprint: Developing the Ideal Parenting Plan

A parenting plan is a written blueprint for how you and your soon to be ex-spouse will care for your children once you’re no longer in the same household. The best plans are based on agreement between the parents. If you and your spouse are unable to agree on a parenting plan, the court will impose one on you. Neither one of you may be happy with its terms.

Parenting plans vary in complexity from a few lines to 20+ pages. Often, the simpler the plan and the more flexible the parents, the better the plan works.

If you and your spouse want to effectively co-parent after your divorce, you need to accept two things about parenting plans:

  • No matter how complete your parenting plan, there is no possible way to anticipate everything that will happen. Work, school, and extracurricular schedules change. Kids and parents get sick. An infinite number of variables can interfere with your carefully thought-out plan.
  • By and large, parenting plans are not enforceable. Courts cannot force a person to become a good parent. They can’t send a sheriff’s officer out every time a parent brings a child home late. Courts can’t mandate respect, empathy, or simple good manners — all of while must be applied to some degree in order to successfully share parenting.

It is best to treat parenting plans as a tentative schedule of parenting time that is subject to change. The plan can’t foresee or deal with everything that happens in parenting children. Only responsible, loving parents can do that.

What Goes Into A Parenting Plan?

At a minimum, your parenting plan should address:

  • Who has decision-making authority for your children (known as legal custody)
  • How you and your spouse will share parenting time with your children (known as physical custody and visitation)

Legal custody,

or decision-making authority, refers to the right to make major decisions about your children. It includes such things as where the children will go to school, what religion they will be raised in, and what type of medical treatment they will have.

You and your spouse can agree that you will make decisions together (known as “joint legal custody”). Joint custody means the two of you must confer before any decision is made. Alternatively, you can agree that one parent will make all the decisions (known as “sole legal custody”). These are the two most common arrangements. However, some couples agree that they will attempt to make decisions jointly but if agreement cannot be reached, one parent will have the final word. Others agree that one parent will make certain decisions, and the other parent will make other decisions.

Physical custody,

or time-sharing, refers to how the parents schedule time with the children. It addresses where the children will live, and who will provide care and supervision during specific times. Parents can agree to just about any arrangement that suits their schedules and their children’s developmental needs.

Many parents agree that the children will live primarily with one parent and will spend specific periods of time, such as alternating weekends and part of summer vacation, with the other. Other parents agree to share time with the children equally by alternating weeks, or months, or splitting the week. In choosing a time-sharing schedule, it’s important to consider the children’s ages and developmental needs, as well as the practicalities of transportation, work schedules, and living space.

The time-sharing and decision-making are independent concepts. Parents who share decision-making need not have equal parenting time, and vice-versa. Finding the best arrangement for your family may be a challenge, so feel free to reach out to our office if you’re looking for guidance.

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