A parenting plan can be a valuable tool for unmarried parents, but only if it is comprehensive.
Absent the automatic legal rights conferred on married couples, parents need to establish custody and visitation agreements through the family court system. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a judge decide every aspect of your case. In fact, whenever possible it is best to reach an agreement outside of court, as this will be faster and less costly. Assuming parentage is already established, you can begin by creating a parenting plan describing how you and your co-parent want to divide responsibilities in caring for your child. Then, you can file this plan with the court and its provisions will become enforceable by a judge in the event of any dispute between you and the child’s other parent.
Parenting plans will be most useful if they are comprehensive and address all the possible concerns that may come up in the course of co-parenting a child. Here are 10 important points to cover in your parenting plan.
Physical Custody: First of all, the parenting plan should designate whether physical custody is shared by both parents or held by only one parent. In the case of joint physical custody, the child’s primary residence should be specified.
Legal Custody: The parenting plan should also address legal custody, or the right to participate in important care decisions for the child. If legal custody is shared, the plan should specify which decisions require consent from both parents (school choice, medical care, vaccinations, etc.).
Time-Sharing Schedule: For shared custody, you need to set up a schedule for moving the child between the parents’ homes. For visitation, you would need to specify the frequency and length of visits, where visits will occur, and whether they need to be supervised.
Holiday Schedule: Be as detailed in possible in specifying how parents will share various holidays, birthdays, vacations, and other special days.
Transportation Arrangements: For harmonious handoffs, it is best to specify who will be responsible for taking kids to and from parents’ homes on visits and whether car seats must be used for young children.
Travel Permissions: The parenting plan can address the possibility of one parent traveling out of state or abroad with the kids. It might give automatic permission for certain trips or require the consent of both parents on a case by case basis.
Third Party Visitation Permissions: If both parents approve of the kids spending quality time alone with other relatives such as grandparents, relevant provisions can be written into the parenting plan.
Rules & Discipline: Co-parenting works best when parents present a united front on issues of rules and discipline. The parenting plan can help by specifying rules for things like curfews, internet use, cell phone use, etc. along with consequences for violations.
Communications: The parenting plan should also outline how parents will communicate with one another about parenting decisions and schedules.
Future Changes: Try to make your parenting plan relevant for the life of your child by including provisions that will allow for changes as the child grows. For example, you might specify that the custody sharing schedule will change when the child enters high school and needs a more stable routine during the week.
If you have questions or concerns about drafting a parenting plan, consult skilled child custody attorney Torrence L. Howell.