What Is a Parenting Plan and Why Do You Need It?

check_icon Research-backed

Image: Shutterstock


Divorce can be emotionally and financially demanding, and if you have a child, the process can become even more challenging. A kid’s psychological well-being can be harmed by their parents’ divorce; nevertheless, developing an effective parenting plan might make things easier for your child. Seeing their parents live separately during the divorce process can be unsettling, and if the parents start fighting during the divorce proceedings, it can add to the child’s suffering; but, a parenting plan guarantees that the children’s best interests are protected. This post discusses the complexities of a parenting plan, why it is needed, and how to create one. Read on.

What Is A Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a legal child custody agreement between a couple who is going through a divorce. It indicates guidelines regarding the upbringing of a minor child. It is also called the “custody and visitation agreement” (1). The document includes a detailed plan about how to care for the child. Parenting plan guidelines are finalized after mutual consent to minimize disagreements regarding the child’s care later on.

Handling the responsibilities associated with the child could become difficult if you are divorced. A parenting plan makes it easier. It lays down a plan for the parents to take care of the child’s education, medical requirements, extracurricular activities, financial needs, and emotional needs. A parenting plan makes this possible even when the parents are separated.

Why Do You Need A Parenting Plan?

Having a parenting plan is a legal mandate for couples undergoing a divorce in some countries. If you live in countries or states where it is not required and are divorcing by mutual consent, you may choose not to have a parenting plan. However, it may lead to issues later due to a lack of agreement over your child’s upbringing. A parenting plan can help avoid later clashes and also make things unambiguous for the child.

Since everything is in writing, children and the parents know what to expect (2). It can make the divorce proceedings smoother for both parties without negatively affecting the child involved.

The following are the various benefits of devising a parenting plan.

  • Allows you to be a part of the decision-making process: Even if the child is with your ex-partner, you would still want to have a say in your child’s life. Having a parenting plan in place ensures that major decisions are taken with both the parents’ consent.
  • Minimizes disagreements: If the divorce was unpleasant, you might not be on good terms with your ex-partner. Even otherwise, some disagreements may arise, resulting in conflicts. In such situations, having a legal document, such as a parenting plan, in place with mutually agreed guidelines can make the conversations between the two of you hassle-free and easier.
  • Makes the process of scheduling the visits easier: If both the parents have busy schedules, planning the visitations can get complicated. However, the parenting plan is created after taking into account the schedules of both the parents. Therefore, all major contingencies are in place, making the process straightforward.
  • Smoothens financial matters: Since the parenting plan is a legal document, its contents are legally binding. All the financial aspects, such as child support, medical expenses, education expenses, and travel expenses, are explicitly mentioned. Thus, neither of the parents can go back on their word since not abiding by the terms will be punishable by law.
  • Addresses safety concerns: The parenting plan lets you include all the safety measures that need to be followed by the co-parent as a part of the parenting plan. This way, you can make sure that your child is safe and cared for in your absence.
  • Smoothens logistics: Visitations require a lot of travel and transfers for the child. Details regarding what mode of transport should be taken, who should be responsible for the transfer, and what to do in case of a change in schedules or emergencies can all be included in the parenting plan. This will make travel hassle-free and safe for your child.
  • Restricts unpleasant situations: You may not always agree with your ex-partner’s parenting methods. There can be situations when you may want to protect your child; for instance, when your ex-partner is verbally abusive towards your child or when they overlook the safety of your child. In such situations, you can legally deny the co-parent access to the child.

Types Of Parenting Plans

Parenting plans can be of various types depending on the custody schedules.

  • Regular parenting plan: This plan is usually called a “typical parenting plan.” It is generally adopted when the primary custody is with one parent, and the other has visitation rights. The child will have scheduled weekly visits with the non-primary parent as well as overnight stays every alternate weekend. Parents who stay far away from each other or have busy schedules may opt for this plan.
  • 50/50 (Joint custody) parenting plan: This plan is generally adopted by parents who stay close to one another and want to be closely involved in the lives of their children. The time with the child is split 50-50 between the two parents. This plan has different forms, such as a weekly plan with an alternate full week schedule with a parent and a rotation plan with frequent visits from the child. The parents can choose the plan that works best for them and their children.
  • Infant parenting plan: Infants require consistent care and the presence of a caregiver. In an infant parenting plan, a parent becomes the primary caregiver (usually the mother if the baby is breastfeeding) while the other parent has short visitation rights. As the baby grows, the visitation time may be increased.
  • Long-distance parenting plan: Parents who stay far away from each other can choose the long-distance parenting plan. In this plan, one parent has primary custody, and the other parent gets to spend vacation and holidays with the child.
  • Restricted parenting plan: In some cases, one of the parents may have a history of sexual abuse, drug/alcohol abuse, or crime, which may pose a danger to the child. Thus, the restricted parenting plan is adopted in which the primary custody is with the other parent, and the parent with the issues gets short, supervised visits with the child. Alone time with the child is not permitted. In due course, if the parent shows recovery, then the judge may allow some additional leeway.

Things To Consider While Drafting A Parenting Plan

Keep the following points in mind when creating a parenting plan to avoid any confusion or differences later.

  • Visitations and living conditions: To finalize the type of parenting plan, the location of the parents is of prime importance. Parents should decide on how often the child moves between homes, the child’s guardian during transfers, and a contingency plan in case one of the parents moves to a new location. Additionally, if the child frequently moves between homes, parents need to be clear if the child needs to carry their belongings or have a wardrobe in each house.
  • Custody arrangement: There could be differences in types of custody, such as one parent has the physical custody, which means the child stays with that parent, while the other parent has the legal custody and, thus, is the decision-maker for the child. Parents need to consider which type of arrangement suits them and should specify it in their agreement. If the parents are unable to reach a consensus, the judge will decide the best arrangement.
  • Schedule of both the parents: Schedules of both parents should be considered before finalizing the parenting plan. The parenting plan should answer questions such as “how will the changes due to work or health emergencies be handled?” and “when should advance notice be given in these situations?.” The parenting plan should include a visitation schedule with provision for changes in case of contingencies.
  • Schedule during holidays and vacations: The parenting plan should include the schedule of all holidays and vacation days in detail. The plan should mention the parent who will have custody of the child during each holiday and vacation. You may choose any of the various methods to decide custody. A few examples are the even-odd method where one parent gets specific holidays during even years and the other during odd years or Judge Brown’s Standard Visitation schedule, which involves alternating major holidays between parents.
  • Medical care: The parenting plan should be clear about which parent pays for the child’s healthcare, who makes critical decisions regarding medical care, and who has access to the child’s medical records. You also need to decide which parent would accompany the child during doctor appointments. Additionally, include illness contingencies in the parenting plan when the noncustodial parent misses out on parenting time due to the child’s sickness (1).
  • Education and extracurricular activities: Consider adding the details about which parent will have access to the school records, who will attend parent-teacher meetings, and who will be responsible for school-related activities, such as homework. Particulars regarding the permitted extracurricular activities for the child should also be included.
  • Decision-making authority: There can be decisions that fall beyond the purview of education and medical care; for instance, when the child asks a parent for a new smartphone or bicycle. A parent may oppose the purchase, so the child may appeal to the other parent to buy it. The parenting plan should make it clear which parent’s decision would supersede the other parent’s decision.
  • Financial details: The parenting plan should have a clear mention of child support, the precise amount to be paid, and the name of the parent who would pay it. You must also deliberate on who would incur the larger expenses, such as college fee.
  • Daycare: Sometimes, a parent may have to keep the child in daycare for some reason. The parenting plan should mention who decides the daycare and who incurs the expense.
  • Safety: The parenting plan should consider the liability of parents in case the child encounters abuse, neglect, conflict, or crime when in the custody of a parent.
  • Religion and culture: Should the child be brought up with a particular religion and culture, or will the child have a right to decide as he or she grows up? If the parents belong to different faiths or cultures, the parenting plan should clarify any ambiguity related to matters related to the child’s faith and cultural values.
  • Visits from grandparents and extended families: In addition to finalizing the Consider the visitation from grandparents or extended families while making the parenting plan. The plan should specify which family members would be permitted to visit the child, how often, and which parent can be present during the meetings.
  • Meeting the new partners: While making the parenting plan, it is crucial to consider if the child will be allowed to meet and spend time with the new partner/love interest of a parent. There could be cases when the child could eventually have a stepparent. List down the rules and limitations for the probable stepparent in the parenting plan.
  • Parent communication channel: The channel through which the parents will contact each other has to be mentioned in the parenting plan. Examples of communication channels include voice calls, video calls, messaging, and social media. Additionally, figure out the frequency and mode of communication between the noncustodial parent and child. You may keep things neutral and stick to a specific platform, such as dedicated websites that let divorced parents communicate with their children.
  • Traveling and relocation: The plan must address any likely future decisions that parents can take regarding the child’s travel. A few questions to consider are “should the child be allowed to travel out of state or country alone?,” “who will decide the itinerary,” and “which parent would accompany the child during travel?.”
  • Lifestyle expectations: Rules and regulations regarding the child’s life, such as diet, bedtime, and pocket money, should be considered while making the plan. If the child is acting out, acceptable disciplining methods should also be deliberated while creating the parenting plan.
  • Modifications in the parenting plan: You should consider including provisions for altering the parenting plan in case of unforeseen circumstances. The provision for changes can come across as useful when the child grows older and develops different needs.

Tips To Make A Parenting Plan

Once you have finally decided on all the terms, it is time to create the parenting plan. You can keep the following points in mind during the drafting of the parenting plan.

  • Ensure legal compliance: Check out your state’s guidelines for the parenting plan before drafting it. If the parents belong to different states, one state will have jurisdiction over the plan, thus comply with the rules of that particular state. The plan should fulfill the legal requirements for it to be acceptable in the court. Hire a lawyer experienced in family law to help you draft the agreement. A lawyer can ensure that the agreement is thorough, workable, and legally compliant. The lawyer will also protect your interest in case of conflicts.
  • Protect your child’s interests: A good parenting plan should protect the physical, emotional, and social interests of the child. The child’s physical needs include healthy food, clothes, medical care, and private space in the house. Emotional needs include family support, a strong bond with both parents, etc. Social needs include meeting friends and participating in extracurricular activities. Children might prefer a particular home due to proximity to school or friends. They might find it difficult to adjust if they are constantly shuffling between two homes. Therefore, adapt the parenting plan to suit the needs of your child. Make sure that the child’s age is taken into account while making the plan.
  • Create a schedule: After considering the schedules of all the parties involved, finalize the parenting schedule that, which will work for you. Check out the scheduling examples given in the next section to get a better idea. Ensure that it doesn’t become hectic and inconvenient for the child. Finalize it after discussing it with the co-parent.
  • Be considerate while making the custody and parenting agreement: Discuss with the co-parent when preparing the custody and parenting agreement. Even if you are not on good terms with your ex, the child needs to have a good relationship with both the parents. Therefore, focus on helping the child have a healthy relationship with each parent instead of winning the custody or maximum time with your child.
  • Recognize your parental rights: Before drafting the parental agreement, you should know the extent of your legal rights so that your ex-partner cannot attempt to strong-arm you. For instance, a parent has a right to 50% of your child’s time if there are no issues raised. In case of joint legal and physical custody, both parents can have regular visits, be a part of all the important life events, and have a right to take all the major decisions for the child.
  • Identify your support system: Once you get a divorce, some of your friends and relatives may choose to side with your partner. Thus, you may not get their help if you need someone to collect your child from school or babysit in emergencies. Keep this in mind when you prepare the parenting plan. Post-divorce, you may need additional support, so it is important to figure out who will be by your side when you need help with your child.
  • Split custody arrangement: If you have more than one child, you can go for the split custody plan. In such plans, each parent has sole physical custody of a child.

Discuss the points of the parenting plan with your ex-partner. Post the first round of discussion, each of you can prepare separate plans and have another round of discussion to negotiate the finer points. Compile and create a draft of the agreement to share with the court before the final submission.

Parenting Plan Examples

There are many types of custody schedules for a parenting plan. Check out the few examples given below, and then select the schedule that suits you best.

Schedules with equal parenting time

Joint custody agreements are most common. Given below are some common examples of 50-50 custody schedules.

  1. Alternate weeks with the parents: In this case, the child spends alternate weeks with parents with no visitations in between. Thus, week one will be with one parent, and week two with the other parent.
  1. Alternate weeks with a mid-week visit: The child stays over for alternate weeks but with a mid-week scheduled visit by the other parent. This is for parents and children who cannot go a full week without seeing each other.
  1. Alternate weeks with an overnight visit: The child stays with each parent every alternate week, but one weekday night is spent with the other parent.
  1. 2-2-3 rotation: The child stays for two days with parent 1, two days with parent 2, and three days with parent 1. The rotation is spread across a week. This plan involves frequent transfers.
  1. 2-2-5-5 rotation: In this schedule, the child lives two days with parent 1, two days with parent 2, five days with parent 1, and five days with parent 2. Parents may switch weeks or weekends based on their agreement.
  1. 3-4-4-3 rotation: The child lives for three days with parent 1 and four days with parent 2 in the first week. In the second week, the child stays for the first four days with parent 2 and three days with parent 1. In the third week, parent 1 goes first with the child staying with them for three days. Each parent alternates between weeks based on their agreement.

Schedules with unequal distribution of parenting time

In these types of schedules, one parent gets to spend a longer time with the child. They are classified based on the ratio of time distribution.

  1. 60-40 schedules: The child spends 60% of their time with one parent and 40% of the time with another parent. The time split can vary based on the number of days of a week or a month, based on the parents’ agreement. A few examples of 60-40 schedules are every extended weekend schedule (child spends weekdays with parent 1 and a long weekend with parent 2) and 4-3 schedule (child spends 4 days with parent 1 and 3 days with parent 2).
  1. 70-30 schedules: It is similar to 60-40 schedules but features a ratio of 70 to 30. A few examples of 70-30 schedules are every weekend schedule (child lives with parent 1 on weekdays and spends weekends with parent 2) and 5-2 schedule (child lives with parent 1 for five days and parent 2 for two days).
  1. 80-20 schedules: This schedule generally indicates that one parent has been awarded sole physical custody, and the other parent has visitation rights. A few examples of this schedule are alternate weekends (child lives with parent 1 and visits parent 2 on every other weekend) and 1st, 3rd, 5th weekends schedule (child lives with parent 1 and visits parent 2 on 1st, 3rd and 5th weekends).

Long-distance parenting schedule

This type of schedule is useful for parents who live far away from each other. In this case, the child stays with the custodial parent and visits the other parent during vacations and holidays. The schedule can be unique in each case since it can be customized based on the parents’ convenience and the child’s preference.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How much does it cost to file a parenting plan in Washington State?

If you are planning to file a parenting plan in Washington state, the total cost for the whole process could range from $200 to 250. The cost covers the service, photocopy, and delivery fees (3).

2. What happens if you don’t follow a parenting plan?

If either of the parents fails to follow a legally approved parenting plan, it puts the parents and child in distress, and the parent might be held in contempt of court for not following the parenting plan (4).

A parenting plan should be comprehensive, but it should be flexible enough to be workable. Having a strong parenting plan can make the process of divorce simpler and minimize conflicts. It will also ensure that the children cope better with the situation. For further support, it is advisable to seek legal help while drafting the parenting plan.

Key Pointers

  • A parenting plan sets the guidelines for bringing up a child after the parents’ divorce.
  • It is important because it helps in better decision-making and lesser disagreements.
  • Consider custody arrangements, parents’ schedule, finance details, education, and other details while making the plan.
  • Follow essential tips to make a strong parenting plan which ensures that the child is looked after without any differences.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Parenting Plans; California Courts, The Judicial Branch of California
2. Planning for Parenting Time; Arizona’s Guide to Parents Living Apart
3. Filing a Petition for a Parenting Plan (Custody) and Child Support When Parentage Has Already Been Established; Northwest Justice Project.
4. 10 Steps for When the Other Parent Won’t Follow Your Parenting Plan; Montana Law Help.
Was this information helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.

Shikha Thakur

Shikha is a writer-turned-associate editor at MomJunction. Having done a certification in Relationship Coaching, her core interest lies in writing articles that guide couples through their courtship to marriage and parenthood. She also specializes in baby names. Being a postgraduate in Human Resources from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, she likes understanding people and their relationships. This reflects in her relationship... more

Shreshtha Dhar

(M.A, M.Phil )
Shreshtha Dhar is a licensed Clinical Psychologist running her private practice Thought Craft in Kolkata. She has special interest in the emotional and behavioral issues of both children and adults. Shreshtha has previosuly worked as a lecturer, published various research papers and contributed to magazines. She provides long distance teleconsultation in English, Hindi and Bengali.