What is the purpose of a “parenting plan”?

A “parenting plan” is a plan for parenting a child, including defining how and when the child will visit with each parent, and how decisions affecting the child will be made by the parents.  A parenting plan is usually incorporated into a final decree or decree of modification in a divorce, legal separation, or paternity case.

“Parenting functions” are those aspects of the parent-child relationship where the parent makes decisions and performs functions necessary for the care and growth of the child. Parenting functions include:

  • maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
  • attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care, grooming, supervision, health care, day care, and engaging in other activities which are appropriate to the developmental level of the child;
  • attending to the child’s educational needs, including remedial or other education essential to the best interest of the child;
  • assisting the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
  • exercising appropriate judgment regarding the child’s welfare, consistent with the child’s developmental level and family social and economic circumstances; and
  • providing for the financial support of the child.

Parenting plan: how flexible or specific should it be?

Parenting plans govern how parents of minor children will handle child custody and parenting (also known as legal and physical custody.)  To some extent, all parenting plans need a degree of specificity and a degree of flexibility.  The question is where do those degrees lie for you and your situation?

A flexible parenting plan might leave which days of the week the children will be with the noncustodial parent up to the parties.  A highly specific parenting plan might detail in which home the children will spend Memorial Day weekend eight years from now.

A parenting plan is used to guide the parents, but the terms of the plan are also there to be enforced by the court, if needed.  There will be some items in the plan that the parents do not mutually enforce, for example a specific time for exchanges.  If the parents are able to communicate and get along well, they may be flexible as to these terms, even though they are specified in the plan. It may or may not be necessary for the parents to formally modify the plan to incorporate the changes, depending on (a) whether the change will be ongoing; and (b) whether at some point a dispute will arise about whether the variance is a “done deal” or not.

If the variance is ongoing and/or there is some likelihood of dispute in the future, the plan should be modified in writing, to memorialize the new arrangements. For some parents, to memorialize every variance would be a constant, never-ending task.  So a balance must be struck between the specific aspects and the flexible aspects of the parenting plan.

If you are working on a parenting plan, consider consulting a family lawyer for assistance.