Gavel Between Split Family Figures And House Model
Close-up Of Gavel Between Split Family Figures And House Model On Wooden Desk

If you are separating from your spouse or getting divorced, you have most likely heard the term, parenting plan. A parenting plan provides a detailed blueprint of how you and your spouse will co-parent your shared children.

The legal requirements for a parenting plan are determined by each state, however, there are certain important basics that every plan should incorporate, including:

  • Who will be the primary custodial parent
  • The schedule of when each parent will have the children
  • A holiday schedule
  • How medical decisions will be made
  • The educational path for the children
  • Child support details
  • Details about the children’s future religious upbringing
  • Where and how children will be picked up or dropped off to each parent

1. Who Will Be The Primary Custodial Parent

While many states have laws in place providing joint custody of the children, some states require that one of you be named the primary residential parent, or primary custody parent.

This does not remove the rights of the other parent regarding access to medical records, school records and time with the children. It is usually based on which of you has the children more than 50 percent of the time, though some states, including Tennessee name a primary parent even when parenting time is exactly equal.

2. The Schedule Of When Each Parent Will Have The Children

Whether you will have your children every other week – only on weekends or by some other schedule, it is important to clarify it in the plan. This eliminates giving control to one of you over the other regarding parenting time. Things to consider in this section are:

  • Children’s school schedule (If you can each get them to school and back it is feasible to share the school week)
  • The proximity of where you live in relation to your spouse (near each other is optimal)
  • Each of your work schedules
  • Children’s extracurricular activities and who will be responsible for taking them back and forth
  • Ability to provide supervision or provide a caretaker during your days with the children

3. A Holiday Schedule

Holidays can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Toss into the mix a divorce, disagreements about which holidays the children should celebrate and the wishes of grandparents, aunts, uncles and the family dog, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Addressing holidays in the parenting plan eliminates the problems. Whether you and the other parent plan to switch holidays every other year or consistently each keep them for the same holidays, be sure to include pick up and drop off times to avoid miscommunication down the road.

4. How Medical Decisions Will Be Made

Kids get sick. Kids get hurt. Determine on the front end how these things will be handled so everyone is on the same page when it happens. Obviously, whoever the child is with at the time of illness or injury will act accordingly, but your parenting plan needs to include notification specifics.

Should the other parent be called/texted on the way to the pediatrician or after the visit has ended? Will email be required to be sure it is in writing? What happens if it is a trip to the emergency room? Think of likely scenarios and decide how they will be addressed and put it in the plan.

5. Educational Path For The Children

Hopefully, you and the other parent are on the same page when it comes to how you both want your children educated. Including it in your parenting plan ensures that drastic changes cannot be made without your consent. Basics include whether your children will be:

  • Home-schooled
  • Educated in a public school
  • Educated in a private school

Some parents include exactly which school district or schools the children will attend. Consider a clause that allows different schools or districts if agreed to by both parents in writing prior to any changes being made. This keeps you both from being locked into something that might not work in the future.

6. Child Support Details

In almost all cases, one parent pays child support to the other parent. The parent who has the children the larger percentage of time typically gets child support, but depending on your individual incomes, that is not always the case. Each state has specific guidelines to determine support payments.

Be sure to include in the parenting plan any extras in addition to child support such as:

  • School supplies
  • School clothing
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • School trips
  • Uncovered medical and dental expenses
  • Pet vet bills
  • Airfare for parenting time exchange (If applicable)

7. Details About The Children’s Future Religious Upbringing

If you and your co-parent are of the same religious beliefs, great, however, things can change down the road, so be sure to address this topic in the parenting plan. Is religious training important to one of you? Are you of different faiths or is one of you not of any faith at all? These are things that need to be addressed. In completing this section, consider:

Do you want to name a specific religion – Christianity, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Bahai, etc?

Are you atheists and want your children raised without any training in particular faiths?

Are you two interfaith and would like the children to learn about both?

Whatever your beliefs, goals and wishes are when it comes to religious upbringing, be sure to include it here. In many states, the primary residential parent’s desires are followed if the parents cannot agree on this point.

Where and how children will be picked up or dropped off to each parent

It sounds so simple, yet, it can become a hot button very quickly, so it needs to be spelled out here. Things to think about include:

  • Which parent drops the children off and picks them up for each exchange?
  • Where does the exchange take place if not at each of your homes?
  • What time will drop off and pick up occur?
  • Is anyone other than the parent allowed to pick up or drop off – and if so, who is designated?
  • If one of you is in a relationship, is the boyfriend/girlfriend, new husband/wife allowed to come along to drop off or pick up – or are they to not be in the car, airport, etc?

8. Exceptions To The Rules

Work schedules change, vehicles break down, tickets to the 50-yard-line show up. Flexibility is important for things to run smoothly. A section of the plan should address what will happen if a temporary change is needed. For example, your co-parent holds tickets to a one time sporting event but it is not that parent’s day to have the children.

Are you willing to let them go and use one of the co—parent’s days next week to make up the time? Did your car break down and you will be late picking the children up on your day? Will your co-parent bring them to you?

These and other allowable changes should be addressed in the plan to avoid resentment in the future.