Parenting Plans

The parenting plan is a document which sets forth the allocation of parental decision-making authority and a parenting time schedule. There is no “one size fits all” parenting plan as each family has its own unique needs, experiences, values, interpersonal dynamics and parenting styles. Parenting plans can be created to address difficult situations such as long-distance re-locations, substance abuse issues, irregular work schedules and domestic violence. They can even incorporate non-traditional co-parenting arrangements such as “bird nesting,” where the children remain in one home and the parents rotate in and out.

What if the parties can’t agree on a workable parenting schedule or who will exercise parental decision-making?

When parties are unable to agree on a parenting plan, the Court must decide who will exercise parental decision-making and what the parenting schedule will be. While this may seem an attractive alternative to protracted (and possibly contentious) negotiations between the parties, the Court’s decision is an impersonal one. It will likely be based on a few hours testimony by the parties and possibly one or several hired “experts”. With this limited and highly scripted set of facts, no judge or magistrate can possibly know the children as well as the parties themselves nor does he or she have the time to craft a parenting plan which will address the unique needs and values of this family. Creating a comprehensive and well-thought out plan with your co-parent is thus a worthy investment of time and money. Moreover, when parents work together to develop a mutually acceptable plan, tailored to their individual circumstances and the needs of their children, they are more likely to follow the plan, engage in fewer parenting conflicts and avoid costly litigation.

What does a typical parenting plan consist of?

Most parenting plans are divided into three major sections: the allocation of parental decision-making, the parenting schedule and child support. The parenting schedule is the most complex section and typically consists of three components: regular parenting time, vacation parenting time and holiday/special occasion parenting time. As a general rule, holiday parenting time supersedes vacation and regular parenting time and vacation parenting time supersedes regular parenting time in the schedule. The best parenting plan is one which is adapted to the schedules of the parents and which accommodates the needs and activities of the children, as well as taking account of each child’s age, personality, expectations and ability to handle transitions and change.

The plan should provide sufficient detail so that it is both easy to understand and, when necessary, enforce. At a minimum, the parenting plan should:

  1. Describe the parenting time schedule.
  2. Specify the time and place for parenting exchanges as well as designating which parent will be providing transportation.
  3. Set forth guidelines for communication between the parents as well as with the children.
  4. Include provisions for last minute delays or cancellations of scheduled parenting time.

What are some “typical” parenting schedules?

A good parenting plan will provide the children with a predictable routine. Some “typical” parenting schedules include:

  • Every Weekend: Parent A has the children every weekend, from Friday evening through either Sunday evening or Monday morning. The children are with Parent B at all other times.
  • Alternating Weekends: Same as above, except Parent A has the children every other weekend. Because of the two week break in visitation, Parent A is often permitted one or two dinner visits with the children during the week in which there is no weekend visitation.
  • Alternating Weeks: The parents share 50/50 custody and exchange the children once a week.
  • 2-2-3 Rotation: The parents share 50/50 custody. The children spend Monday and Tuesday with Parent A and Wednesday and Thursday with Parent B. The parents alternate 3-day weekends.
  • 3-3-4-4 Rotation: The parents share 50/50 custody. Typically, the children spend Sunday through Tuesday with Parent A and Wednesday through Friday with Parent B. The parties alternate Saturdays. The only day which changes from week to week is Saturday.
  • 2-2-5-5 Rotation: The parents share 50/50 custody. Typically, Parent A has the children from Monday through Tuesday and Parent B from Wednesday through Thursday. The parties alternate 3-day weekends from Friday through Sunday. Similar to the 2-2-3 rotation, the parties thus alternate 3-day weekends.