What is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a court order that allocates your child’s time between the Mother and Father’s households. Parenting plans are implemented for parents who are divorcing one another.
Is a Parenting Plan the Same as a Residential Schedule?
Residential Schedules are nearly identical to parenting plans, except residential schedules do not include decision-making authority or a dispute resolution provision. Residential Schedules are employed when two parties have children in common, but were never married. Residential Schedules are also used in Third Party Custody Cases, where a non-parent has custody of a minor child or children. This occurs in cases where a parent is unfit or does not have physical custody of their child or children.
What Does a Parenting Plan Do?
A parenting plan serves many functions. Most importantly, it identifies the custodial parent, the parent with whom the child spends the majority of his/her residential time. If a child spends an equal amount of time with both parents – a shared schedule – then there can be a joint custodial designation. Specifically, a parenting plan may also allocate both parents as the custodian.
A parenting plan will also outline an under-school age or school-age schedule for your child or children. It will identify a holiday schedule as well. If your child is school age, then it will also include a schedule for spring, summer, and winter recesses from school. The holiday schedule accounts for all Federal Holidays and special occasions, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas as well as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and birthdays for the parents and child(ren). Easter and Halloween can be other holiday/special occasions that are added into a parenting plan if desired.
Decision making authority is included in a parenting plan too. Decisions, such as education, non-emergent medical care, and religious upbringing, are either made “jointly” or can be made only by one parent, if limitations or restrictions are applicable and appropriate for the other parent in your case. Day to day decision making is allocated to the parent, whom the child is residing at the time. Often times, it’s wise to include decision making authority for extra-curricular activities.
Another important provision in a parenting plan is dispute resolution. Conflict and disagreements commonly arise between parents. Whether the issue centers around a change of school or a change in a parent’s work schedule that makes the parenting plan impractical to follow, the dispute resolution provision is one that requires the parents attend mediation, arbitration, or counseling with a professional in your area. Because the courts requires parents first attempt to resolve their differences on their own before coming to court to litigate, a dispute resolution provision in your parenting plan can be a quick and cost efficient remedy to court action.
The transportation arrangements are also identified in a parenting plan. It establishes where the child will be exchanged, whether at a parent’s home, school, daycare, or other location. It also establishes who’s responsible for arranging transportation, either the picking up parent or one dropping off.
A parenting plan also includes a priority schedule. If any two provisions in the plan conflict, say your child is scheduled to be with you on the 4 th of July holiday and be with the other parent for his/her summer vacation at the same time. The priority schedule should resolve the issue by prioritizing one provision over another. For example, if the parenting plan prioritizes the 4 th of July Holiday above the other parent’s summer residential time (for only the time that conflicts; i.e. the 4 th of July) then the parent scheduled to have the child on the 4 th of July (pursuant to my hypothetical above) should receive the child at that time. This provision is designed to help clarify any such ambiguity between the parents without the need for mediation or further court action.
An effective parenting plan may also include “other provisions” that help craft your parenting plan to the specific facts and circumstances in your family law action. While both the mother and father are each entitled to receive the child’s school and medical information for example, it may still be helpful to identify this as an “other provision” in your parenting plan so there is no misunderstanding between the parents or even with your child’s school. It may be helpful to identify telephone or Facetime contact, specifically what days and times these calls will occur in an “other provision” within your parenting plan as well.
Finally, and not least important, a parenting plan may also identify limitations and restrictions against a parent and require that parent submit to an evaluation or treatment. Unfortunately, there are unfit parents, who may abandon, neglect, abuse their child or spouse, or abuse drugs or alcohol in the presence of their child. Such issues can cause emotional or mental issues for children, resulting in limited or restricted contact, such as supervised visitation, in parenting plans. When limitations or restrictions are applicable, a good parenting plan will identify appropriate courses of treatment, so that a remedy may be sought for the limiting/restrictive factor in order so that parent may re-establish a healthy positive, and productive relationship with his/her child.