Creating a Parenting Plan: A Comprehensive Guide for Divorced or Separated Parents


A parenting plan, also known as a child custody agreement, is a crucial document that outlines the responsibilities of each parent when they are separated or divorced. It aims to minimize conflict between parents by setting clear expectations and responsibilities, ultimately benefiting both the parents and the child. In this article, we will provide a step-by-step guide on how to create a parenting plan that suits your unique circumstances.

What is a Parenting Plan?

Separating or divorcing a spouse can be challenging, especially when children are involved. A parenting plan can help alleviate some of the difficulties by providing a framework for co-parenting. It allows parents to establish an ideal parenting situation based on their specific needs and circumstances. By defining roles, expectations, and custody arrangements, a parenting plan ensures that both parents have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, leading to a more harmonious co-parenting relationship.

How To Write a Parenting Plan

While consulting with a family lawyer is beneficial, you can also create a parenting plan on your own. In fact, many courts prefer that parents submit a plan as it reflects their understanding of their child’s needs. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through the process.

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Step 1 – Add Parent and Child Information

Begin by filling out the parents’ names, contact information, and the children’s initials and birthdates. Throughout the agreement, you and your co-parent will be referred to as “First Parent” and “Second Parent,” and your child(ren) will be referred to as the “minor child.”

Step 2 – Include Custody Arrangements

Detail the legal and physical custody arrangements for your child(ren). Several custody options are available:

  • Sole Legal Custody: Only one parent is responsible for making legal decisions regarding the child’s healthcare, education, and religion.
  • Joint Legal Custody: Both parents share equal decision-making authority, including decisions about the child’s welfare, education, and religious beliefs.
  • Sole Physical Custody: This determines who the child lives with and outlines visitation rights for the non-custodial parent. It often includes agreements about cost-sharing and child support.
  • Joint Physical Custody: Both parents have equal or significant time with the child and share physical responsibilities.

Step 3 – Create a Parenting/Visitation Schedule

If one parent has sole or primary physical custody, specify the other parent’s visitation rights. In cases of joint physical custody, the parenting plan should include a schedule that determines which days the child(ren) will spend with each parent.

50/50 Joint Custody Schedule

The best parenting schedule depends on factors such as the distance between parents’ homes and logistical considerations. Here are a few common examples of joint custody parenting schedules:

  • Alternating weeks
  • 2-2-3 rotation: Parents spend half of the week and alternating long weekends (Friday-Sunday) with their child(ren)
  • Alternating weeks with a midweek visit or overnight stay
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Remember that parenting schedules can be modified as children’s needs and schedules change.

Holiday Schedule

Determine which major holidays and school vacations the child(ren) will spend with each parent.

Step 4 – Determine Parent Rights and Responsibilities

Use this section to outline parental rights, such as attending school sports events or being notified in emergencies. It is crucial to establish clear communication guidelines for situations that require parental consent or collaboration, such as medical decisions for the child. Consider adding any additional terms that suit your family’s unique needs.

Step 5 – Make Financial Arrangements

Include details about how co-parents will split the child(ren)’s expenses, who will claim them as dependents for tax purposes, and who will provide medical insurance. If applicable, specify the monthly amount the noncustodial parent will pay in child support.

Step 6 – Sign the Document According to State Requirements

Check your state’s laws to determine if you need witnesses or a notary public to authenticate the parenting plan. While not always required, witnesses can help verify the agreement’s authenticity in case of a dispute.

To simplify the process, you can find free printable parenting plan templates online or use a step-by-step form builder to create a customized plan.

Tips for Writing a Parenting Plan

  • Create a Parenting Plan as soon as possible: By creating a plan early in the divorce or separation process, you minimize disruptions to your child’s schedule and promote their overall well-being.
  • Consider your children’s input: Older children may have preferences or needs they wish to express. It’s important to involve them in decisions that affect their lives, such as determining holiday arrangements.
  • Establish a communication method: Specify a single form of communication, such as an online platform, to discuss issues, share schedules, and coordinate calendars. Having a central communication channel can be useful in court proceedings if disputes arise.
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Example – Parenting Plan Template

For a visual representation, here is an example of a parenting plan template:

(Insert image of a parenting plan template)

Frequently Asked Questions