A parenting plan is an agreement between the parents of a child or children that sets out the details regarding the custody, visitation, and parenting arrangements of them.
During a separation or a divorce, a former couple must decide how to split everything they accumulated, including any children they may have had.
A parenting plan allows the parents to detail who gets to make decisions about the child, how much time each party will spend with them, and whether any party will receive child support, as well as any other agreements they may come to.
As a reference, this document is known by other names:
- Child Custody Agreement/Plan
- Child Visitation Agreement
- Parenting Agreement
Types of Custody
Sole Custody vs. Joint Custody
Sole or primary custody means one parent has custody all or a majority of the time. Joint custody means that the parties share custody equally.
They will need to agree on sole or joint custody for two types of custody – legal custody and physical custody.
Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody
Legal custody refers to the right to make important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing and welfare. These decisions include things such as where they will go to school, what religion they will follow, and when they will go to the doctor. In general, courts are inclined to grant parents joint legal custody, requiring them to confer and agree on their upbringing.
Physical custody refers to the right to have the child live with one parent. When deciding on the physical custody arrangement, the parents should consider transportation of their children between them, their school schedule and extracurricular activities, and holidays or other departures from the normal schedule, including birthdays and summer break.
The parents can agree on a set of rules for when the child is in the other’s care. These rules can include things such as what can be said in front of them, what to do in the case of an emergency, the types of food they can eat, and not smoking around them.
In general, one party will have sole or primary custody, and the other party will have regularly scheduled visitation or parenting rights. The parties can also agree to joint physical custody and share the child as close to 50/50 as possible. A joint physical custody agreement works best if they live relatively close to each other.
When Do I Need a Parenting Plan?
Divorces and separations can be messy, especially if the parties have children. If this is the case for you and your partner, a Child Custody Agreement Agreement can help ease some of the some of the uncertainty and tension for everyone involved.
The agreement can be a temporary agreement, or a permanent agreement that is approved by a court with jurisdiction. This document can help you determine:
- Child support
- Legal custody
- Physical custody
- Visitation or parenting schedule
- Medical care
- Rules and guidelines
- Child care
The most important factor when preparing a Child Custody Agreement is to consider the best interests of the child, especially if you will have the agreement approved by a court. It is important to remember that they will be greatly affected in a separation. Not only will he or she be dealing with the anger, frustration and disappointment of a divorce, having two new homes, and spending less time with one parent, but also having to give up time and desires to accommodate the new arrangements.
When creating your plan, you should consider:
- The roles and responsibilities of each parent prior to the separation
- The age of the child and their wishes, if they are old enough to express them
- The environment that will give them best chance to thrive
- The time commitment each party can contribute
- The financial situation of each party
- The potential disagreements that might arise
The Consequences of Not Using a Parenting Plan
Without a Child Custody Agreement, the parents and their child will not have a regular routine and will live with the uncertainty that the other parent may decide something on his or her own that may impact all of their lives. Here are some possible consequences this agreement might prevent:
|Uncertainty about when they see their child||Uncertainty about where they will see parents|
|No peace of mind about how they will be raised||No peace of mind about where they will be living|
|Fighting and unable to focus on parenting||Fighting and unable to focus on school|
|Financial stress in raising them and providing for their needs||Financial stress because parent won’t pay for needs|
|Confusion over how they should be raised and the beliefs they should be taught||Confusion over conflicting instructions from parents|
|Lost time having to go to mediation each custody decision||Lost time having to go back and forth between parents|
Even with an agreement, the parents may have disagreements over how to raise their child. However, having a written agreement gives each parent legal recourse should the other violate the agreement. Here are some common violations of this agreement:
- Not Honoring Visitation Rights – The custodial parent fails or refuses to honor the agreed upon visitation schedule. They might try to use or withhold visitation in exchange for something or might feel the other parent is not fit for visitation.
- Taking Child Without the Other Parent’s Consent – One parent might take the child on a trip or pick them up from school without the other’s consent. Parents should be very careful not to risk a kidnapping charge.
- Making Disparaging Remarks About the Other Parent – The parents can have rules and guidelines in their agreement, including not to say negative things about the other and influence the child’s feelings towards them.
- Disagreements Over Parenting – The parents may change their mind to certain things they agreed on, such as what religion they want their child to be. Or they may disagree over a major medical decision regarding them.
- Creating an Unsafe Environment – If one party smokes or drinks or performs some risky behavior, it may be unsafe for the child to be with them.
If any of these violations occur, the parents can come to a new agreement or take the other to court. If the agreement was approved by a court, they will return to that court to enforce the order. If the agreement was not approved by a court, the parent can seek the normal legal remedies to enforce the agreement.
If one of the parents is a foreign national, things can get even messier. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction controls what county has jurisdiction to hear a custody case. Gossip Girl actress Kelly Rutherford lost her long custody battle in the California with her German ex-husband, and her two kids were sent to Monaco to live with him. The California court later ruled that it no longer had jurisdiction to revisit the custody order.
What Should Be Included in a Parenting Plan?
- Parents: Their names and addresses.
- Child: The names and birthdates of the children who are the subject of the agreement.
- Legal Custody: Which parent will have the right to make important decisions for them?
- Physical Custody: Which parent will they live with?
- Parenting Schedule or Visitation: Specific details regarding splitting their time between the parents.
- Child Support: Whether or not one parent will be entitled to receive money from the other for the care of the child.
- Parent’s Rights and Responsibilities: What actions can and cannot be taken while they are under the care of the other parent.
- Expenses: Which parent will be responsible for relevant expenses, including medical insurance and tuition?
- Disputes: Will the parties first attempt mediation if disputes arise regarding the agreement?
- Court Order: Will the agreement be filed in court as part of a separation or divorce agreement?