parenting planA parenting plan is a court form that divorced parents of minor children can use to identify their position on things such as who has physical and legal custody, whether one parent pays child support, who carries health insurance on the child, and a joint custody or visitation schedule.

Before creating a parenting plan, it’s important to understand the differences between physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to the parent the child lives with, whether that parent has sole physical custody or joint custody. One or both parents can have legal custody even if the child primarily lives with just one of them. Legal custody gives the right to make important decisions regarding the child, such as medical care, religious instruction, education, and extracurricular activities.

What to Include in a Parenting Plan

Parenting Plans are now required to be completed and submitted in all temporary hearings in family court.  Thus, you can use the parenting plan form to document your hope or expectation for how visitation and other issues will be handled. The following are typical items included in most parenting plans:

  • Custody and visitation: Will one parent have primary physical custody of the children or will they share joint custody where the children spend equal time in each home? What is ideal is if you and your child’s other parent can discuss and work this out ahead of time so you both have the same expectations reflected on your parenting plans. If not, though, the judge may review both plans and make an independent determination as to a visitation schedule for the parties.
  • Holiday schedule: Holiday visitation typically supersedes the everyday schedule. If the parents can’t work out who should have the children on birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other important days, a family court judge may decide for them. A schedule of one parent having certain holidays in even years and the other having them in odd years is common. Many parents use “Judge Brown’s Standard Visitation” schedule for holiday visitation, which alternates the major holidays and holiday breaks each year, so each parent has a fair share of holiday time with their child.
  • Transportation: This is especially important in joint custody situations. The parenting plan should specify how the children will get to school, extra-curricular activities, medical appointments, and the other parent’s home when it’s time to transfer custody.
  • Childcare costs: If one or more children need to attend daycare so the parents can work, the parenting plan should specify how much each one pays towards these costs.
  • Medical insurance and costs: The parents should know which of them plans to cover the children on their medical plan or through a state program. If either parent pays or receives child support, family courts typically consider medical insurance contribution when determining the monthly sum. They also consider the percentage each parent must pay towards out-of-pocket costs such as co-pays and deductibles. Additionally, the parenting plan should specify who will make decisions regarding medical care and what to do if the parents can’t reach an agreement.
  • Communication regarding children: How will the two parents communicate with each other when they no longer live in the same home? This is especially important to determine in advance in cases of joint physical custody.
  • College savings: Will each parent contribute towards college savings, and if so, how much?

Examples of Custody Schedules to Include in Parenting Plans

There’s no right or wrong schedule when it comes to joint custody, only what’s in the best interests of your children and works well for you as the parents. As joint physical custody becomes more common to give children the benefit of a close relationship with both parents, couples and family court judges have used several versions of a true joint custody schedule. Here are some of the most common ones:

  • Alternate between the mother’s and father’s home weekly: In this arrangement, the children stay with their mother one full week and their father the next full week. The parenting plan should specify which day the custody transfer will take place each week. Most families choose a weekend day because there’s less going on, but you need to look at your family’s work and school schedules to choose the best day. The children should have a functional bedroom and living space at each residence so they don’t have to continually drag their belongings back and forth.
  • Alternating weekly schedule with a midweek visit: This is the same as the above schedule with one evening weekday visit to the parent whose home the children don’t currently live at. The benefit is that the kids don’t have to go a full week without seeing either of their parents.
  • Alternating weekly schedule with an overnight visit: This is another variation of the first schedule. It allows the children to spend one weekday night per week with one parent and then finish out the week with the other parent.
  • 2-2-3 rotation: This custody arrangement has the children changing homes more frequently. They spend two days with one parent, two days with the other parent, and then Friday, Saturday, and Sunday back with the first parent. Each parent receives an equal amount of days and has the children every other weekend. This would pose more difficulty when the two parents live a considerable distance apart.
  • 5-2-2-5 rotation: This arrangement is the same as the 2-2-3 except one parent would always have the children on Monday and Tuesday, the other parent would always have the children on Wednesday and Thursday, then the parents would alternate visitation on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Although it provides a bit more predictability for the child in terms of knowing what day they’ll always be with what parent, it’s important to examine yours and your child’s schedules to determine if this schedule would work for your family.
  • 3-3-4-4 rotation: This is another variation of the 2-2-3 rotation with the children spending a longer stretch of time with each parent. They live with the mother for three days, then the father for three days, then back to the mother for four days, and finally back to the father for four days, on a repeated two-week rotation. With this arrangement, the children always live at the same residence Sunday through Tuesday and Wednesday through Friday. Only the Saturday schedule changes.

Although many of the above visitation schedules are commonly used, none of them may work for your family.  For instance, one parent may always work during the week and the other may always work on the weekends.  In that case, it may make more sense for them to share time by always having the child when they’re each off of work.  Oftentimes situations also don’t warrant a true 50/50 division of time, in which case visitation schedules of every other weekend or some variation thereof may be used.  The important thing is to determine what makes the most sense for your family, and most importantly, what’s the best arrangement for your child or children.

Get Experienced Legal Help Creating Your Parenting Plan

As experienced family law attorneys, Ruth Cate, Rachel Brough, and Margaret Nowell are available to assist you in creating a fair parenting plan for your children as well as you and their other parent. When you can’t work out certain issues with your ex, your family law attorney will enter negotiations with his or her lawyer or represent you in court. Please contact us at 864-585-4226 to request a free consultation for your family law matter.

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