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 What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is also known as a parental plan. It may also be referred to as a custody agreement, a co-parenting agreement, or a parenting time arrangement. It is commonly used in cases that involve:

The parenting plan is an agreement between the parents that outlines the schedule as well as the duties and responsibilities of each parent in raising the child or children. Any determination of child custody in a case will result in a parenting plan.

The plan may also provide information regarding parental rights. If there are other parties involved in the child’s life, such as grandparents or stepparents, their rights may also be outlined in the parental plan.

The parenting plan may also be called a parenting agreement. Creating this agreement helps all parties involved understand what is expected of them and may alleviate some of the conflict that often arises in separations.

Stability is extremely important for all children. Divorce and separation can upset even the most regimented schedule. Having a parenting plan can help offset some of the negative effects the situation may have on the child by providing them with a predictable visitation schedule.

A parenting plan is composed by the parents themselves, the attorneys involved in the parents’ divorce or separation, or the court. These plans may be created and implemented even if the state does not require one during a divorce. The plan may be as complicated or as simple as the parties involved desire.

There are no set forms for parenting plans. The legal parenting plan must be drafted and signed by both parents and then presented to the court for approval.

What Should Be Included in a Parenting Plan?

There are several components a legal parenting plan should include. These are:

  • Child custody;
  • A schedule outlining how much time and when each parent will spend with the child, also referred to as visitation;
  • The duties and responsibilities of each parent;
  • Pick-up and drop-off transportation;
  • Parental rights, which include which parent will be responsible for making important decisions regarding the child, such as:
    • Educational decisions;
    • Medical decisions;
    • Religious practices; and
  • Holiday schedules;
  • Rights regarding child support; and
  • Rights of other parties, such as grandparents or stepparents.

Child custody can be one of the most contentious issues in a divorce involving children. It is important for both parties to try and put their emotions aside and consider what is best for their child.

They will have to decide who has physical custody, meaning where the child will reside and which parent will offer day to day care. If the parents cannot decide, the court will decide using the child’s best interest standard. It is important to remember the court does not know a family like the family does, so the child’s interests may be better served if the parents can determine custody for themselves.

Once the parties determine who has physical custody of the child, they will need to create a visitation schedule for the non-custodial parent. Children typically benefit from a regular relationship with both parents.

In many cases, and in a standard court-ordered visitation schedule, the non-custodial parent will be granted visitation on weekends, extended school vacations, such as summer and spring break, and holidays will be split between the parents. The agreement should also outline how the child will be transported from one parent to another.

Child support is another issue that may be contentious when creating a parental plan. The parenting agreement should outline which parent pays child support and the amount. Most states have a child support calculation formula which may help determine the proper amount.

In the parenting plan, the parents can make decisions with one another and include any other specific issues that may be pertinent to their child or children, so long as they agree upon the terms. Once the plan is written out, the court will review the plan using the best interest of the child standard, and base their decision on the needs of the child.

Who Comes up with a Parenting Plan?

Typically, the parents of the child come up with the parenting plan outside of court or during formal court proceedings. If they are able to come to an agreement outside of court, they can then present their parenting plan to the court for approval.

Once the parenting plan is approved by the court, it is enforceable by law. In situations where the parents are not able to come to an agreement and draft their own plan, the court will issue a plan for them.

Are Parenting Plans Enforceable?

Yes, parenting plans are generally enforceable. If the plan is signed, witnessed, and approved by the court, it is enforceable. On the other hand, parenting plans that are informal and not in writing may not be enforceable. As with any type of contract, it is always a great idea to put the agreement in writing.

What are Some Common Disputes Involved with Parenting Plans?

Disputes are common when it comes to parenting plans. In some cases, the parents are unable to agree on certain issues. Fortunately, a parenting plan may be modified to better accommodate all parties involved and when life circumstances change.

Disputes that may arise regarding parenting plans include:

  • Visitation schedules;
  • Child support amounts; and
  • Violations of the parenting agreement.

It may be challenging to arrange a visitation schedule that works with both parent’s daily schedules. It may lead to frustration and conflict. However, it must be done and agreed upon.

Child support amounts can be a cause of conflict when drafting a parental plan. The parent asking for child support must show evidence to substantiate the amount they are requesting.

It is common for a parent to violate the terms of a parental plan, even if it was ordered by the court. Violating a parental plan may result in severe penalties, which can include criminal charges.

What Happens if You Violate a Parenting Plan and Agreement?

There are consequences to violating parenting plans and agreements. Once the court approves and orders the parental plan, it becomes a legally binding document. This means if a party violates a provision of the plan, they may be subject to court fines or other penalties.

If an issue arises and a parent is unable to follow the plan or the arrangement no longer works for the parties, there are procedures for modifying the court order. The party or parties may petition the court for a modification and present evidence as to why it is necessary.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Parenting Plan?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced child custody lawyer for any parenting plan issues you may have. Creating a parenting plan can be very difficult, especially when cooperation and communication between the adults is less than ideal.

A parenting plan lawyer can help you draft your plan and determine what works best for you and your child. Your lawyer can help ensure there is a fair and balanced distribution of duties and responsibilities in the plan. Your lawyer can also assist you in preparing evidence in support of your requested child support amount.

In the event that you need to modify your parenting plan in the future, your lawyer can assist you with the modification process. Your lawyer will be with you every step of the way during what can be a very difficult process.

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