A Parenting Plan, also known as a child custody agreement, outlines the responsibilities of each parent when they are separated or divorced.
Parenting Plans are often included in a Separation Agreement or Divorce Agreement. Some parents choose to complete two separate Parenting Plans to submit to the court for consideration, while others work together to reach an agreement before completing and signing the plan.
What is a Parenting Plan?
Separating or divorcing a spouse can be a difficult process that can negatively affect a child. You can use a Parenting Plan to reduce the conflict between parents by setting clear parenting expectations and responsibilities in these situations. Ultimately, the document can benefit both the parents and the child, allowing them to create an ideal parenting situation that suits their circumstances.
How To Write a Parenting Plan
While consulting an experienced family lawyer is helpful, you can write a Parenting Plan yourself. In many states, the courts prefer that parents submit a Parenting Plan since they understand their child(ren)’s needs best.
Step 1 – Add Parent and Child Information
Fill out the names and contact information of both parents and the initials and birthdates of all children.
Later in the agreement, you and your co-parent will be referred to as “First Parent” and “Second parent.” Your child(ren) will be called the “minor child.”
Step 2 – Include Custody Arrangements
Detail the legal and physical custody arrangements for your child(ren). There are several custody options available:
- Sole Legal Custody: Only one parent has the right to make legal decisions for the child, including health care, education, religion, and much more.
- Joint Legal Custody: If both parents wish to have joint decision-making responsibilities, they share equal authority to make legal decisions together. This can include decisions about the child’s welfare, education, and religious beliefs.
- Sole Physical Custody: Physical custody pertains to who the child lives with and outlines visitation rights for the non-custodial parent. Agreements about cost-sharing and child support are often included in this section.
- Joint Physical Custody: Both parents have an equal or significant amount of time with the child and share physical responsibilities.
Step 3 – Create a Parenting/Visitation Schedule
If one parent has sole or primary physical custody of the child(ren), indicate the other parent’s visitation rights.
If parents have joint physical custody, your parenting plan should include a parenting schedule that dictates which days the child(ren) will spend with each parent.
50/50 Joint Custody Schedule
The best parenting schedule for your family depends on factors like how far apart the two parents live and how exchanges will work. Typically, in joint custody cases, the goal is to allow each parent to spend equal time with their child(ren) without disrupting the child’s physical and emotional needs.
A few common examples of joint custody parenting schedules include:
- Alternating weeks
- 2-2-3 rotation: this schedule allows parents to spend half of the week and alternating long weekends (Friday-Sunday) with their child(ren)
- Alternating weeks with a midweek visit or overnight stay
As children grow and their needs and schedules change, you can always petition the court to modify the parenting schedules accordingly.
Your Parenting Plan should also determine which major holidays and school vacations the child(ren) will spend with which parent.
Step 4 – Determine Parent Rights and Responsibilities
Co-parents can use this section to describe their rights to see their children in day-to-day activities, like school sports and emergencies.
Your plan should also clearly state which situations a parent is required to contact the other and how they will communicate the information. For example, if a medical decision needs to be made for the child.
This section can also include any additional terms you want to add to the agreement based on your family’s needs.
Step 5 – Make Financial Arrangements
Your parenting plan should detail:
- how co-parents will split the child(ren)’s expenses,
- who will claim the child(ren) as dependents on taxes
- who will provide the child(ren)’s medical insurance.
If applicable, the Parenting Plan should include the monthly amount the noncustodial parent will pay in child support.
Step 6 – Sign the Document According to State Requirements
Check your state’s laws to determine if you need to sign the Parenting Plan before witnesses or a notary public.
Even if it’s not required, witnesses can help verify the agreement’s authenticity if a dispute arises.
While you can write a Parenting Plan from scratch, you may find it easier to work from a template. You can download our free printable parenting plan template that will serve as a guideline for all the important details you should include in the agreement. Alternatively, you can use our step-by-step form builder, which allows you to create a customized plan.
What Should Be Included in a Parenting Plan?
A typical Parenting Plan includes the following:
- Custody arrangements
- Parenting/visitation schedules
- Holiday schedule
- Medical decisions & health insurance
- Communication between parents
- Child support/expenses
- Other terms as agreed by parents
When creating a parenting plan, include as many details as possible so both parents know exactly how they’re expected to respond in various situations.
Tips for Writing a Parenting Plan
Create a Parenting Plan as soon as possible
Getting it created early during a divorce or separation will prevent your child’s schedule from being disrupted more than necessary and benefits their overall well-being.
Consider what your children want
Although younger children might not understand separation, older children, such as teenagers, would likely want to voice their needs and preferences. It’s suggested you don’t make important decisions, such as where they’ll spend Christmas, without them.
Use one form of communication with your co-parent
Specifying a method of communication, such as via an online platform, can be helpful when you need to discuss issues or share schedules and calendars. You can centralize your discussions by determining where communications will occur, which will be important to refer to in court if an issue arises.
Sample Parenting Plan Template
Here is an example of what a Parenting Plan template looks like:
Parenting Plan Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can write your own Parenting Plan. Courts usually recommend this, as parents typically know their children’s needs best. A lawyer is not needed when creating a Parenting Plan, but you can consult them to ensure the agreement complies with your state’s requirements.
Each US state has its own custody documents that parents should file with a family court. You should contact an attorney specializing in family law to ensure that you have the correct paperwork.
Yes, you can modify a Parenting Plan without going to court. The only thing you have to make sure of is that you and the other parent must agree on the new terms. If both parents cannot agree, the modifications will have to be approved by a court judge.
The cost to reopen your case to allow for the modification will vary by state. This fee is typically around $50-$60.You may have to pay other costs related to copying and serving papers and any attorney fees if you’ve used one.
You may be eligible for waived fees if you’re a low-income individual. You will have to check your state requirements to see if you qualify.