How To Make A Parenting Plan: 5 Tips For Co-Parents

Updated August 22, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. The specifics of supervision during parenting time, depending on the child’s age and other factors.
  3. How the child will be transported between parents as well as to school, activities, and other daily events.
  4. Information about daily decisions as well as larger, value-based choices relating to the child’s education, health, and religious upbringing.
  5. 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. 

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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.

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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. 

Takeaway

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. 

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