How To Make A Parenting Plan: 5 Tips For Co-Parents
Parenting can be one of life’s greatest rewards – but for many parents, raising a child (or children) is also one of their most challenging experiences.
If you’re co-parenting your child with a former partner or ex, the process of parenting can be further complicated by issues with communication, unresolved conflicts, and simply getting from Point A to Point B, especially when family members live in separate locations.
In the everyday chaos of raising a little one, finding time to create a “parenting plan” might seem intimidating. But by setting aside a window of time to make a plan (and stick to it!), your family and future self will express gratitude for your thought, care, and foresight.
Read on to learn how to create the best parenting plan for your family, plus X strategies to communicate with your co-parent and develop a shared, mutually beneficial system.
What Is A Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a document that details how divorced or separated parents will share and split the responsibilities of raising a child and making decisions with regards to the child or children. Parents typically create parenting plans in preparation for divorce, and the plan must be agreed to by the parents and approved by the divorce court.
While parenting plans are generally legal documents for divorced parents, you can also create a parenting plan if you’re trying to clarify parenting responsibilities and goals with a current partner.
Made with thought and intention, a plan can be a powerful tool to keep families healthy, _, and on track to meet their shared and individual goals.
Do I Need A Parenting Plan?
If you’re divorcing from your partner and have a child or children together, you’ll usually need to provide a parenting plan to a family court and demonstrate your shared ability to care for the children after divorce. In some cases, a parenting plan may be legally established by the court if co-parents cannot reach agreement on their own.
Outside the context of divorce, parents don’t “need” a parenting plan, although you may find it beneficial to sit down with your partner from time to time and discuss your parenting strategies, goals, achievements, and areas for growth.
What Should Be Included In A Parenting Plan?
Depending on where you live, your parenting plan may include specific different details mandated by the local court. In general, however, parenting plans address the following areas:
- Where a child will spend each day of the year and when they’ll spend time with each parent, with extra consideration of holidays, birthdays, school breaks, and other special events.
- The specifics of supervision during parenting time, depending on the child’s age and other factors.
- How the child will be transported between parents as well as to school, activities, and other daily events.
- Information about daily decisions as well as larger, value-based choices relating to the child’s education, health, and religious upbringing.
- Information about financial support.
Depending on a family’s particular needs, a parenting plan may contain other details related to health concerns, frequency of contact between one parent and their children, and other dynamics.
While there are many factors to consider in a parenting plan, the goal is to create a clear, thorough plan that prioritizes the emotional stability and physical wellness of all children involved.
5 Tips To Help You Create A Parenting Plan
Fundamentally, a parenting plan protects the best interests of your child or children. Ideally, this document also gives you clarity, confidence, and peace of mind after divorce or separation.
Of course, there are several factors to consider while making the plan, which can make the process feel daunting. Combat any fear or stress with the following five tips and develop a plan that benefits everyone in the family.
Please note that this article cannot substitute as legal advice. For specific information on parenting plans in your geographic area, please consult a legal professional.
1. Focus On The Basic Components Of Parenting.
When creating your parenting plan, the National Parents Organization recommends starting with the most essential, basic components. Your definition of “essential” may vary slightly depending on your family, but these components generally include:
- Parenting time, referring to physical custody and visitation schedules.
- Decision authority, clarifying which parent makes big decisions for the child relating to their education, medical treatment, religious upbringing, and other formative, values-driven decisions.
- Living arrangements, which may include the maximum distance that parents can live from each other to minimize transportation challenges.
- Financial support, which may include child support, shared expenses, tax considerations, school funding, and other expenses.
If you’re unable to agree with your co-parent on these decisions, you may need to work with a professional to guide your communication and solidify the groundwork of the plan.
2. Remember The Purpose Of A Parenting Plan.
At its core, a parenting plan is designed to protect the well-being and safety of your children. Even if you’re struggling to effectively communicate with your co-parent, a parenting plan serves as a steady reference during times of conflict, ensuring that you make each parenting decision with the children’s best interests at heart.
While you can’t plan for every future hurdle, a parenting plan serves as a physical reminder of the commitment you made to your children, even when family circumstances shift or conflict arises. Your child’s rights are at the heart of your parenting plan, and reflecting on this original purpose can help you work through any challenges that lie ahead with a clear mind and steady focus.
3. Be Comprehensive – But Know That Plans Can Change.
When you first create a parenting plan, aim to be as comprehensive and thorough as possible. If they’re not outlined clearly in your parenting plan, seemingly small details like driving your kids to school, making meals, and other daily routines can become sources of confusion or conflict.
Regardless of how carefully you outline this plan with your co-parent, life is unpredictable. Five or even 10 years down the line, you may need to adapt the plan to reflect changing family dynamics, new romantic partners, physical moves, or to better address a child’s needs.
When making your plan, do your best to cover as much as possible, while being flexible and extending grace to yourself – as well as your co-parent – when you encounter new life phases.
4. Strive For Cooperative Co-Parenting.
In divorced families, a spirit of cooperation can have long-term benefits for all family members.
Several studies support this sentiment, including a 2013 study of the relationship between cooperative co-parenting and positive or “prosocial” behaviors in children. Based on data from 58 two-parent families, the researchers found that children were more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors – such as helping, sharing, and generally being considerate to others – when their parents engaged in higher levels of cooperation.
Even if you’re not good friends with your ex-partner, cooperative co-parenting can enhance your children’s social and mental well-being, as well as your own. But how can parents define cooperative co-parenting and put these principles into action?
Family dynamics are complex, so parents ultimately get to define “cooperation” and build a parenting plan that works best for their children. That said, some key pillars of a cooperative co-parenting plan include:
- Identifying a mode of communication that works best for both you and the other parent – texting, phone calls, or email, for example – to minimize conflict and maximize clarity.
- Focusing on your relationship as co-parents instead of ex-partners, and viewing them as a partner in nurturing your child together.
- Creating a shared schedule to communicate about transportation and time with each parent.
5. Seek Professional Support.
Making and adhering to any plan can be tricky, especially when life gets in the way. While you can’t predict every hurdle, misstep, and victory ahead, a professional therapist can offer tools to plan for life’s unexpected moments.
In many cases of parental separation or divorce, a legal professional is best suited to answer any questions pertaining to family court, custody, and related concerns. In the meantime, parents may benefit from connecting with a therapist to work on their parenting and individual goals.
While some people prefer face-to-face therapy, a growing number of individuals and families prefer the ease and accessibility of online therapy. Using a digital platform like ReGain, you can connect with a board-certified therapist within a few days of completing a brief questionnaire. From there, schedule sessions at a time and place that works around your parenting schedule, work, and other obligations. Each ReGain therapist has at least three years of professional experience, and many assist clients through parenting plans and other common challenges that follow divorce, separation, and breakups.
Several studies show that online therapy can be as effective as in-person alternatives, including a 2021 study of the transition to teletherapy in marriage and family therapy (MFT) training settings during the COVID‐19 pandemic. Although this study acknowledges the need for more research on the challenges of online MFT, many researchers agree that teletherapy removes common barriers to in-person therapy, including stigma, distance, scheduling, and childcare. These benefits may especially appeal to divorced or separated parents, particularly as they develop a parenting plan and move forward with their shared and individual lives.
For parents navigating divorce, separation, or breakups, a parenting plan is a powerful and often necessary tool.
But even with a clear parenting plan in place, parenting is more than just watching your child grow up. Raising a child requires communication, love, cooperation, and flexibility when plans go awry.
A board-certified therapist can guide you through these moments and help you raise a healthy, happy child: the ultimate goal of any parenting plan.
What Is The Purpose Of A Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is essentially a written parenting agreement for divorced couples that determines every aspect of the child’s life and how they are cared for. Creating a parenting plan will create structure and stability for your new family dynamic while maintaining peace. The purpose is to create an easy transition to co-parent in a most healthy way for you, your former partner, and the child. Some states require a custody plan and parenting plans in divorce cases. Even if your state does not require one, it is extremely beneficial to have a parenting plan to determine your family and child's consistent and predictable framework.
What Should Be Included In A Parenting Plan?
Creating a parenting plan that is well thought out, including custody and a parenting schedule, will make the divorce process much easier. A parenting plan should include all aspects of a child’s life while considering its best interest. A detailed schedule determines custody and parenting time, outlining how the child will split their time between the households and transportation, holidays, and vacation time. Include how you will handle emergencies or big decisions as parenting responsibilities while creating a parenting plan. Finances are another big thing to include when making your parenting plan. Tuition, healthcare, clothing, food, and extracurricular actives are all expenses that need to be considered. Having a plan for communication with the co-parent and the children is important for a parenting plan.
Is A Parenting Plan Legally Binding?
Some couples split into good terms and develop a custody plan and parenting schedule that works for them. Yet, even if both parents agree to a parenting plan during a divorce, it is not technically legally binding. A parenting plan is only legally binding when it is reviewed and approved by a judge. Once a judge approves a parenting plan, there could be legal consequences if a parent violates any terms. A comprehensive parenting plan that includes custody and parenting time is very important. Some states require a parenting plan during a divorce case, while other states do not. Speak to a divorce lawyer in your state to determine if parenting plans are required or if you would like to get your parenting plan approved by a judge. Before making a parenting plan legally binding, make sure custody and parenting time are well planned out.
What Is The Best Parenting Plan?
There are many things to consider when writing the best parenting plan. No two families’ parenting plans are the same. A comprehensive parenting plan is best. This will determine all details of the child’s life, including a parenting schedule and managing holidays or events between parenting time. Parenting responsibilities should also be outlined when it comes to life decisions, expenses, and anything else that will affect your child’s life. The best parenting plan is very detailed and limits conflict, keeping the peace between all parties focused on the child’s best interest.
Can I Write My Own Parenting Plan?
You can write your own parenting plan. There are many guides online to help create a comprehensive parenting plan to fit your family's needs, custody, and parenting time. Of course, it is best to write parenting plans with the other parent as it is an agreement between you. There will probably be many compromises that need to be made regarding a custody plan, parenting responsibilities, and parenting time. Making your parenting plan can sometimes be difficult if you are not on great terms with your former partner. If you cannot agree on a parenting plan with the other parent, the family court will write it for you detailing custody and parenting time. You also have the option to work with an attorney to create a parenting plan or have them write one for you. Considering your child’s best interest, it may be best for the parents to create an outline because you know your child’s needs best and manage custody and parenting time. If you would like the parenting plan to be legally binding, it must be approved by a judge.
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