What is a Parenting Plan?

If you are divorcing and have children under 18, a parenting plan is a handy tool that is required by courts. You and your spouse, or former spouse, can use the parenting plan as a guideline for responsibly sharing parenting responsibilities.

A parenting plan is a way for both parties to come to agreement on issues that revolve around raising children, by defining the roles of each parent and their responsibilities. It can also help to outline related scheduling issues, disciplinary actions and decision making provisions. The plan is one way to get both parents thinking about the myriad issues that could arise in child rearing in separate homes, and to help reach agreement on conflicting points of view.

Among the things a parenting plan can include are:

  • A residential schedule
  • Needed restrictions on either parent
  • Decision making provisions
  • Dispute resolution process
  • Contact with relatives and significant others
  • Vacation and holiday schedules
  • Transportation and exchanges
  • Childcare
  • Travel

In general, both parents have equal rights in deciding the outline of the parenting plan. Mediation may be required to resolve issues that may arise in following the parenting plan. As circumstances change, it can also be modified at a later time.

Unless there is a good reason not to, the parents will have joint decision making authority on major issues like educational and medical decisions. The court may limit a parent’s visitation if the parent has committed domestic violence, child abuse, or suffers from significant alcohol or drug problems.

Although it is truly helpful if parents are somewhat flexible in parenting, if either parent violates the parenting plan they could be held in contempt of court. A parent accused of attempt must go to court and explain why they should not be held in contempt. Following repeated violations of the parenting plan, the plan could be modified in court and the violating parent could have some of his or her parenting rights restricted.  In extreme cases, police could get involved as well.

If either parent disputes the meaning of a provision in the parenting plan there are options. The dispute can be mediated, or a parent may want to bring a motion before the court for clarification.