Parenting Plans: Planning Makes for Success

A parenting plan is a written document that outlines how parents will raise their child after separation or divorce. You may have heard of legal terms such as “custody”.  It doesn’t have to be full of legal terms. It can focus on describing parenting arrangements such as:

  • how decisions about the child are made (for example, jointly or individually but in consultation with the other parent)
  • how information is shared between parents
  • when each parent will spend time with the child
  • how other parenting issues may be addressed.

In Washington State, the is a parenting plan “form” which can be found on the state web site that should be used as a starting point for any parenting plan.  It deals with many of the logistical questions outlined below.  At the end of the day, a parenting plan should reflect the interests and the needs of the child. A well crafted parenting plan can help to reduce conflict between parents by setting out clear guidelines and expectations. Reducing conflict is important.

A parenting plan should have enough detail to be useful, yet enough flexibility to be realistic. Consider the age of your children and how well you are able to work with the other parent when thinking about how specific your parenting plan should be. This comes into play with decision making. Can you two communicate together well enough to make decisions for the best interest of your child/children?

You can develop a parenting plan together if there is agreement. If you need help reaching agreement, mediation or other collaborative decision-making processes can be helpful in making a parenting plan. Lawyers, counsellors, therapists or social workers may also be able to help.

It is a good idea to seek independent legal advice about your parenting plan.

Things to Consider When Making a Parenting Plan

  1. Living arrangements and parenting schedules
    • Residential arrangements (Will the child live mainly in one residence or will the child move between two homes?)
    • Geographical considerations (Must parents live close to each other?)
    • Movement between homes (What are the details about drop-off and pick-up? Consider specifying times, days, location, and person responsible for pick up and drop off)
    • Moving away (What if one parent proposes to move?)
    • Childcare and babysitting arrangements
    • Communication with child while with the other parent (Will communication be through phone, e-mail, pictures, Skype?)
    • Changes to the parenting schedule (Eg illness, lateness, social events, special occasions. How much notice of change is required? Will there be make-up time?)
    • Child’s belongings (Will belongings move between homes with your child? Will your child have two sets of some items?)
  2. Vacation, holidays and special days
    • Arrangements for holidays (Consider school breaks, summer vacation, school holidays. Will the child spend certain holidays with one parent every year?)
    • Arrangements for other significant days (Consider birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and other events such as weddings, graduations, funerals, etc.)
  3. Health care
    • Decisions about medical or dental care (How will decisions be made about dental or medical treatment? What about vaccinations or other preventative treatments?)
    • Emergency medical treatment (How will parents notify each other?)
    • Arrangements for check-ups  (Who takes the child?)
    • Care of child if child is ill
    • Access to medical records (How will medical information be accessed or shared?)
    • Medical insurance (Will there be medical insurance? Who will obtain it?)
    • Arrangements for any special needs of your child (Consider orthodontic treatment, counselling, physiotherapy, speech therapy, diet, glasses, prescription drugs.)
  4. Children with special needs
    • Decisions about any testing or assessments (Consider assessments for special accommodations in school, psychological or psycho-educational testing. Which parent will attend appointments? How will costs be dealt with?)
    • Arrangements for any special treatments, therapies or services needed.
    • Decisions about any treatment required.
    • Arrangements for any supplies of equipment or medication.
    • Decisions about which parent is available if the child requires care.
  5. Education
    • Decisions about any choice or change in school, school program, special educational needs, tutoring etc. (How will these decisions be made?)
    • School records (How will this information be accessed or shared?)
    • Attendance at parent-teacher conferences and school events (Who will attend?)
    • School absences (Under what circumstances will your child be removed from school?)
  6. Extra-curricular activities
    • Extra-curricular activities (How many? What type?)
    • Schedule of activities for children (Consider whether one parent can schedule activities during the child’s time with the other parent. Who will pay? Who will transport?)
  7. Religion
    • Religious upbringing and activities (How will these decisions be made?)
  8. Travel
    • Notice of travel with the child
    • Written consent for child to travel out of the country may be required.
    • Child’s passport (Who will keep the child’s passport?)
  9. Communication between parents
    • Type of information to be communicated (Consider medical information, school information, change of address, telephone numbers, travel plans)
    • Method of communication (third party parenting applications are popular)
    • Emergency communication
  10. Making changes to parenting plan
    • Process for making changes to the parenting schedule or other parts of the parenting plan (Consider a process for reviewing arrangements as circumstances of you and your child change.)
  11. Solving Problems
    • Method for resolving disagreements over the parenting plan (Consider the use of counsellor, therapist, mediator, or lawyer)
    • Payment of costs (Who will pay for these services?)
  12. Other parenting issues
    • Discipline and lifestyle expectations (Consider rules on bedtimes, homework, allowance, piercing, tattoos, dating, part-time employment, etc.)
    • Child’s use of the computer, including social networking, or other electronic devices such as cellular phones, e-tablets, or gaming systems
    • Involvement of new partners and family (Consider when to introduce new partner or sibling to child.)

If you have questions about any of the logistics of creating a parenting plan or  if you are having issues with your current parenting plan, contact an attorney to help you.