By Divorce.com staff
Updated Feb 15, 2023
If you’re getting divorced and you have children, the court will ask you for a lot of information relating to how you’re going to co-parent. A parenting plan helps the court define and enforce your child custody agreement and child support arrangement. It clearly shows where a child is supposed to be and when they’re supposed to be there.
You’ll start by using a parenting plan template to input necessary information and come to an agreement regarding parenting time. Here’s how to create a parenting plan template you can use to make important decisions.
What Is a Parenting Plan Template?
A parenting plan template is a tool that co-parents can use to decide how they’ll divide their parenting time. This helps parents to plan accordingly and prevents last-minute confusion.
If you’ve plugged all the information into your parenting plan template, you’ll already know where your children will spend Christmas Day and where they’ll spend Christmas Eve. You’ll know which parent has the child overnight on their birthday and where your kids will spend most of their winter break.
Completing a parenting plan template can also help parents find opportunities to take time for themselves. If one parent knows they’d like to take a child-free vacation during spring break, they can pre-arrange for the other parent to assume responsibility for the kids during that time.
In exchange, they can agree to take the children during another part of the year so the other parent can also enjoy a little time away.
Parenting plans also help to keep parents accountable. If one parent doesn’t abide by the parenting plan, the other parent will have an avenue for recourse. If they don’t show up for their parenting time or if they don’t return the children when their parenting time is over, there will be a concrete record of how the situation should have been handled.
Who Needs a Parenting Plan?
Parents who will share custody of their children need a parenting plan when they get divorced or separated. Parenting plans are especially important with joint custody arrangements because parents need to create a detailed plan for how they’ll equally divide their time with their children. Parenting plans are used to detail which weekends or school breaks children will share with their parents in primary custody situations.
Parenting plans are also important for child support. If one parent is going to have more parenting time with their child, the other parent may be expected to pay child support.
A parenting plan will clearly demonstrate how parenting time is going to be divided, which will help the court decide how to award child support.
Who Doesn’t Need a Parenting Plan?
Parents with sole physical and legal custody of their children don’t need a parenting plan, as they won’t be co-parenting. They’re responsible for fulfilling all of their child’s needs and making their child’s schedule, even if they receive child support from their former spouse.
Sole physical and legal custody situations are rare. They’re usually only used when one parent is incarcerated, unable to be located, or has been charged or convicted of domestic violence. If it’s been decided that your child’s other parent won’t have any physical custody of the children, there’s no reason to have a parenting plan.
What Should a Parenting Plan Template Include?
Your parenting plan template needs to include space for a lot of information. There’s no such thing as being too thorough. The more information you include in your parenting plan, the easier it will be for you to plan ahead.
How Parenting Time Will Be Shared
One of the most important parts of a parenting plan is the division of parenting time. Will you alternate weeks? Will one parent only have parenting time on the weekends? How will the children get from one parent’s home to the other parent’s home? Will they be dropped off or picked up? Will you meet at a halfway point between your homes?
You’ll need to have answers to all of these questions. You can include exceptions for holidays, vacations, or special events, but you need to have a functional plan you’ll abide by at all other times.
How Parents Can Contact Children Outside of Parenting Time
Parents are encouraged to speak to their children outside of their parenting time. If your child had a big test at school, both parents will want to know how it went. Your parenting plan should contain information about how parents can stay in touch with their children outside of their parenting time.
These rules are helpful if one parent has a cutoff for screen time or phone use. They may not want the child texting or video chatting on their phone past a certain hour, and the other parent should respect those rules. Take note of the timeframes your child will be eating dinner or doing their homework to avoid disruptions.
How Parents Will Communicate With Each Other
Communication is one of the most important aspects of co-parenting. You’ll want to have a reliable way to communicate with each other. This can be tricky if you have different work schedules or you’re both busy people.
Your parenting plan needs to include the contact information and contact methods you’d prefer to use. Many co-parents find texts and emails work best because they always have access to the information. They won’t forget to add important dates to their schedule because they can easily synchronize the information to their digital calendar.
You should also include emergency contact information. Provide your work phone number in case your former spouse urgently needs to contact you when you’d be out of reach. You should also include at least one trusted family member you’d like your ex to contact if they’re having trouble getting a hold of you.
Exclusions From Communication
If you’re uncomfortable allowing someone around your child, you need to include that information in your family plan. If there’s someone in your child’s family who engages in reckless or abusive behavior or struggles with substance abuse, you might not want that person to have any contact with your child. You should specifically name that person in your parenting plan.
How Expenses Will Be Divided
It helps to have a clear division of expenses, even if one spouse is paying child support. You’ll need to arrange how health care expenses, mental health counseling, extracurricular activities, school supplies, and educational expenses will be divided. A lot of parents decide to split these bills 50/50, but some parents would prefer to take on expenses by category.
This portion of a parenting plan isn’t necessary if you already received a court order with a breakdown of expenses when child support was awarded. This is usually the case for things like medical care or insurance requirements, where the court will dictate how they are to be paid. You can omit this portion if it doesn’t apply to your circumstances.
Where Children Will Spend Holidays
Birthdays and winter holidays are usually the most important to parents. Don’t forget to include dates like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.
Who will take the children trick or treating on Halloween? Review your child’s school calendar to see when they’ll have extended weekends or short breaks. Your child will likely have memorial day and labor day off. Who will bring the children to the family barbecue?
When you’re creating a holiday schedule, don’t forget to include things like important religious occasions or close family members’ birthdays if you’d like your child to attend. If an event comes up at the last minute, you won’t be able to incorporate it into your parenting plan.
Instead, give your former spouse as much notice as possible if that event falls outside of your regularly scheduled parenting time.
You might choose to alternate which parent gets which holidays. One of you can have New Year’s Eve on odd years, and the other can have it on even years. This way, you’ll each have an equal opportunity to watch the fireworks with your children.
How You’ll Handle Child Care
There will be times when neither parent is available to supervise the children. What will happen then?
You can mutually agree upon a daycare you’ll use if one of you works outside of the hours the children are in school. You can also mutually agree upon family members or family friends you trust to supervise the children if neither of you is available.
How Major Decisions Will Be Made
Parents with joint legal custody have an equal say in the decision-making process. It’s easy for day-to-day decisions, but it’s not always clear-cut when a significant decision needs to be made.
There are going to be times when neither parent will agree on a major issue, like where to send a child to school or what type of medical treatment to use. How do you intend to handle dispute resolution when you can’t reach an agreement?
Creating a Parenting Plan Template
The easiest way to create your own parenting plan checklist worksheet is to use a spreadsheet. Organize the spreadsheet into sections, including a calendar section for important dates. Give each section of your parenting plan its own heading and organize the information it contains.
It helps to sit down with your co-parent and work on your parenting plan together. If one of you is better at creating and organizing spreadsheets, that person should be the one to input all of the data.
If you need help making decisions regarding your parenting plan, you can try working with a divorce mediator. A divorce mediator is an impartial third party experienced in all aspects of divorce and family law. They can help you review your options and come to conclusions that will work for you. They’ll also take notes during your mediation session to keep things organized.
After you’re finished with mediation, your mediator will give you a list of all the decisions you made. You can plug them into your parenting plan template and give your spouse to review the template before it becomes your official parenting plan.
A Final Word on Parenting Plans
Completing divorce paperwork is a process that includes all of the forms your local court will need for divorce and child custody. This can include a parenting plan template, which can help co-parents decide how their parenting time will be divided after their split.
By making some of these decisions ahead of time, you can make co-parenting easier for each other and for your children. Not only do these plans aid in creating accountability for both parents, it can also help set clear expectations for every member of your family as you move into this new normal.
Don’t forget to include information about how parenting time will be shared, how parents can contact their children, the division of expenses, child care, and beyond. While mediators and lawyers can help you make these decisions, you may also be able to create a plan just by communicating with each other.
No matter how you decide to create your plan, it is the first step towards a healthy co-parenting dynamic that can help your children thrive, even after your split.