What to Include in Your Parenting Plan

Shot of a young couple reviewing their parenting plan while using their laptop

A parenting plan is an important document that must be in place when parents separate or divorce. It outlines custody matters and determines how you and the other parent will raise your child when you do not live together. While bringing up a child in two households can be challenging, you may wonder what to include in a parenting plan to help ensure the best interests of your child are met.

Here are ten provisions that should not be overlooked when creating an effective parenting plan:

1. Custody Schedules

A custody schedule specifies the days and times each parent is responsible for the child. A custody schedule should be specifically tailored to meet the needs of your child and ensure they spend quality time with both parents. Many parents who share custody follow a “2-2-5” split. An example of this kind of schedule is that one parent cares for the child each Monday and Tuesday, the other parent cares for the child each Wednesday and Thursday, with a weekly alternating schedule of Friday through Sunday. There are many arrangements that a parent can have, including “week-on-week-off” schedules. What works best for your children depends on each parent’s work schedule and availability, the child’s age, developmental needs, and the child’s ability to adapt to change.

2. Holiday and Vacation Sharing

When developing a custody schedule, parents should specify where the child will spend holidays and school vacations. Parents might consider dividing holidays and vacations by alternating them each year. Some holidays are “night” holidays (like Halloween and the Fourth of July) and may require an overnight stay. Other holidays can accommodate a mid-day exchange of the children to the other parent if the parents live nearby. Once a child begins sharing time with both parents in two separate households, it is common for parents to schedule the holiday celebration twice so that the child can enjoy it with each parent.

3. Plans for Birthdays and Special Events

Birthdays and special events can be handled in many creative ways. If parents are amicable and cooperative, they might have a joint celebration with their child. However, this is not always realistic or possible. In the event co-parents have a high-conflict relationship, they may choose to split the day in half so one parent gets to see the child in the morning and the other in the evening. For older children, it is common for the parents to alternate which parent celebrates their child’s birthday each year - having a second birthday celebration at the home of the parent who does not have the child on their actual birthday.

4. How Major Expenses Will Be Handled

How parents handle the financial responsibility for certain expenses can be a challenging issue. Major costs of the child’s education, medical care, and extracurricular activities should be handled in a written agreement. The parenting plan should also specify a system for dividing random and recurring expenses that benefit the child.

5. Educational Decisions

A comprehensive parenting plan should provide a framework for how decisions regarding a child’s education should be made. Provisions should also be included to address whether both parents will attend school conferences and how school records can be accessed. In addition, parents should agree on how decisions will be made about a child’s extracurricular activities and the types of activities in which they will participate.

6. Religious Upbringing and Culture

A parenting plan may also outline how decisions about a child’s religious upbringing will be handled. If the parents practice different religions, they should specify whether the child will be introduced to both. Parents should also include a provision regarding how decisions about cultural events will be made and if the child will participate in any cultural activities.

7. Communication

The parenting plan should emphasize respectful communication and determine the methods of communication parents will use to discuss issues related to the child. For instance, parents might choose to communicate by phone, email, text, or through a parenting app, like TalkingParents or Our Family Wizard. It is also best to set a maximum response time for questions and requests made by each parent.

8. Medical Decisions

When parents share legal custody of a child, they both have a say in the type of medical care their child will receive. The parenting plan should determine issues related to the child’s medical care, including those concerning vaccines, mental health matters, emergency treatment, medications, etc. Parents should also agree upon who will incur responsibility for any out-of-pocket medical costs.

9. Dispute Resolution Methods

Although the parenting plan should decide as many issues as possible in advance, disputes can still arise. Resolving conflicts in litigation can be costly and time-consuming — and it is often unnecessary. Parents should choose an alternative dispute resolution method to resolve any disputes related to custody matters. Mediation, arbitration, and collaborative practice are all effective ways to settle custody issues without going to court.

10. No Badmouthing

Not all co-parents are on friendly terms. When parents are contentious, a provision should be included in a parenting plan that prohibits parents from badmouthing each other in front of their child or attempting to diminish the quality of the relationship the child has with each of them. Divorce can be traumatizing for a child, and they should never be made to feel like they have to take sides. The purpose of a non-disparagement clause is to protect the child’s relationship with both parents and prevent them from being a go-between. When children detect conflict between parents, unhealthy dynamics can begin to emerge, including the child favoring one parent over the other.

Contact an Experienced California Family Law Attorney

Co-parenting isn’t easy, but a solid parenting plan can help to reduce stress and limit the potential for conflict between parents because clear expectations can reduce disputes. A knowledgeable family law attorney can help you determine what to include in your parenting plan and create one that is in the best interests of your child. Located in Walnut Creek, Bednarczyk & Valerio, LLP offers reliable representation to clients in California for a wide variety of family law matters, including those concerning custody and parenting time. Call 925-464-2494 or contact us online to schedule a consultation to learn how we can help.

Categories: Child Custody