Parenting Plan Basics

By Kimberly Lauer, Esquire

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What is a parenting plan? 

A parenting plan is a document the Court uses to understand a family, including: where a child sleeps, who makes major decisions for the child, and what happens if parents don’t agree on what’s best for their child. Ideally, the plan will set in writing who will make major decisions for the child, what will happen if parents disagree, how much time the child spends with each parent, and what the child’s holiday or vacation schedule will look like.

A parenting plan must first address who makes decisions for the child, it could be a mother, father, grandparent, or other person who is the primary care giver for the child. The major decisions are not day-to-day choices of what a child eats or wears, but are about what school or day care the child will attend, what doctor the child sees, or whether the child will be raised in a certain faith. Parents who communicate well can share legal custody, but if a dispute arises, the parenting plan should address how that dispute will be resolved. Many parents can work out their disagreements through mediation. However, in some situations, this is not an option and one parent may have tie-breaking authority. 

What is parenting time? 

Parenting time is the time you spend parenting your child. Parenting time schedules can be as different and unique as families are all different and unique. Some families who live close to each other can have a week on/week off schedule, while others may have a Monday – Friday schedule with one parent and alternate weekends with the other parent. The schedule that works best for your family will depend on your work schedule, the other parent’s schedule, and the child’s school and activity schedule. 

Holiday Schedule

What holidays does your family celebrate? Do you celebrate all federal holidays? Do you celebrate religious holidays? Do you travel for a family reunion every year? Each holiday schedule will be unique to each family. Some families will split holidays like Thanksgiving where one parent will have the child for the first half of the day and the other parent will have the child for the second half of the day. Other families will alternate holidays with one parent celebrating the holiday with the child in even years and the other parent celebrating the holiday with the child in odd years. It may help to review your calendar for the last year and review the holidays you celebrated, where you celebrated holidays and who was with you for the holiday. 

Summer Schedule

What does your summer look like? Do you take a week-long vacation to the beach? Does your child have a favorite summer camp that they participate in? Summer plans often change from year-to-year, but many families have certain summer traditions that they like to follow, and can be set out in the parenting plan. 

Resolving Disputes

From time-to-time parents may disagree about what is best for a child. Sometimes they can resolve these disagreements on their own, but other times they may need the help of a professional. A mediator can help parents review their positions and try to reach a compromise. If a mediator cannot help, then parents may seek relief from the Court. The parenting plan helps set the standard for how parents will try to work out their disagreements before reverting to the Court for a judgment.  

The Court has created a worksheet to help parents address these issues. The Parenting Plan Tool is available online and helpful to review to consider what schedule and coordination will best apply for your family.