Parenting Plans - Resolving the Conflict for Everyone's Sake

Consider these facts from the U.S. Census Bureau

  • Over 25% of U.S. children live with one parent.

  • 60% of those living with mom were at or below the poverty line.

  • Children living with dad were more likely to be part of a family with a higher median income.

  • About 62% of custodial mothers and 39% of custodial fathers had child support agreements or awards from a court.

  • About 60% of the parents who did not live with their children (the non-custodial parent) had joint custody and/or visitation privileges.

  • It was more likely for the 5.3 million non custodial parents (who owed child support) to have made payments if they had joint custody and/or visitation.

  • Of the 59% of custodial parents who received non cash support e.g. gifts or expenses, 65% had agreements or awards.

No matter how you look at it working it out, if at all possible, is not only best for the children but for everyone involved.

A Few Facts About Parenting Plans

A Parenting Plan is part of the paperwork you will need to file with the court if you and your spouse decide to divorce or separate. It sets out a schedule of when the children will be with each parent and how decisions affecting the children will be made. The plan can be filed separately or as a joint agreement. The court will create its custody and support orders from the parenting plans.

A Parenting Plan sets forth how the parents will contribute to their children's care, health and well being by providing detailed information about:

  • Custody and Visitation

  • Decision making - Rights and Responsibilities

  • Dispute Resolution

  • Expenses and Support

  • Handling Change

A Parenting Plan permits you and your spouse to avoid future conflict regarding your rights and responsibilities towards your children. If you can't work it out between you then a court will step in and make the decisions for you. But remember, rarely is anyone happy with what the court decides.

Your Parenting Plan will govern your future relationship with your children and your former spouse. It is best if you and your spouse are actively involved in developing it. After all you know the most about your children and their needs. The best parenting plans are flexible but structured enough to be able to readily implement. They put the children's needs first, and allow for re-tuning and re-adjustment as circumstances change. There is research to suggest that compliance and implementation are much higher when parents are actively involved in creating the plan.

Custody and Visitation

Physical custody refers to who the children's living arrangements. The custodial parent has the day-to-day care, supervision and decision-making responsibilities for the children. Sole custody means the children live with one parent full time while the other parent has visitation on a regular schedule. This is the traditional and still most common parenting arrangement.Joint custody can take different forms. The children can alternate between the homes of the parents on a regular schedule. Or "Nesting" where the children remain in one home, usually the family home, and the parents move in and out on a regular schedule. Joint custody will give you both substantial time with the children.

The Parenting Plan should set forth how the time will be shared, who will pick up the children from where, and all other exchanges. It should also deal with unexpected changes to the basic routine. And, everyone involved should have a copy of the schedule including dates and times.Research indicates that children who grow up in a joint custody arrangement adjust no better or worse than other children of divorce. The key variable is not the change in circumstances but the extent to which their parents fight.

Conflict will always occur. How you and your spouse choose to handle it will set an example for how your children resolve conflicts in their own relationships in the future.You should know that joint custody arrangements rarely last once the children become teenagers. At that point they tend to choose one home as their primary residence so that their friends can easily find them. Most parents willingly go along with this.

Check out Making Co-Parenting Work at ABC news.

Decision Making, Rights and Responsibilities

Legal custody is the decision-making rights and responsibilities about the children's health, education and welfare. Sole custody gives that custodial parent the responsibility for making these decisions. In joint custody the parents share that responsibility. These decisions range from day care to religious training, from braces to college.These decisions become even more difficult if you aren't getting along with your spouse.

Sometimes couples resolve this by turning over specific decisions to one parent. If you decide to share decision-making you need to go further. What happens if you disagree? How will you share information? When will you negotiate and under what conditions? Will you talk endlessly or try mediation? How will you apportion responsibility? Who gets to do what?

For more information, check out

Child custody 911. Ranked #1 for custody research. Links to over 100 Child Custody Websites.

Child Custody & Divorce Resources State-by-State links to individuals, groups,and organizations to help with the challenges of divorce and child custody.

Expenses and Support

It is the responsibility of both parents to provide financial support for their children. This includes food, shelter, clothing, education and medical care. Courts use specific formulas to calculate child support contributions. However, the terms of the support should include more than just an amount in dollars.

Experts agree that decisions about legal and physical custody should be made before child support is calculated as they involve decisions that impact on child support. Much of the conflict about support payments and amounts can be tied to unrealistic expectations about the costs of raising a child. It can also reflect unrealistic expectations about the amount of money available. Remember the same amount of money must now support two households instead of one.

It is imperative that you have a process in place either through direct contact or through third parties such as mediators or parenting coordinators to be able to obtain and share accurate information. It is important that parents live up to their child support obligations in a timely manner. Children often interpret failure to do so as a loss of love or interest by the parent.

Handling Change

Life is full of unforeseen circumstances. It is impossible to plan in advance for every contingency. Besides the big changes, day to day circumstances may require accommodation. Yet divorce too often locks families into a rigid structure. Any change brings on painful turf struggles. And children often come to realize that they have a lot of power over their parents by shifting their allegiances. It is an unhealthy situation for everyone involved.

Your Parenting Plan should contain a process by which you and your spouse will handle the decision-making change brings about. It is also a good idea to build in a periodic review so that you can so that you can review your circumstances without defensiveness or fear.

Additional Considerations

Here are some other considerations that enter into a judge's thinking when reviewing a Parenting Plan. They are all the more reason to submit your own rather than leaving it to the court's discretion.

  • Being Mom. It isn't always true, but judges seem to prefer moms over dads in custody disputes unless dad can show something pretty awful about mom's parenting like driving drunk with the children in the car.

  • Key Parenting Role - whomever has been making sure the children are keeping up with their homework, making them dinner, fixing their lunch, making sure homework gets done, etc. will likely get the nod.

  • Quality of School System. Class size, teaching quality, percentage of student body that goes to college, etc. matters and may work to the disadvantage of the parent living in the less affluent school district.

  • Preference for the Status Quo. Particularly if the parents have been living apart for some time. If the children have been living primarily with one parent and things are working out, then a judge is unlikely to mandate a change. The same is true is the kids have been alternating house.

  • Stability. Judges tend to believe (with good reason) that a more stable environment is more nurturing for children.

  • Standard of Living. It matters although judges are loath to admit it. If the child's standard of living is significantly improved by living with one parent rather than the other, that parent chances improve.

  • Success Track Record. If the children have done well when they are with one parent, and not so well when they are with the other, courts will consider returning the children to the original arrangement.

  • Who Will Ensure the Children Spend Time With the Other Parent. If one parent has consistently made waves, been late, or seems to make things difficult, judges will consider having the children live with the other parent in hopes that they will ensure that the kids spend time with both of you.

Where to Get Help

Your Local Court. Check to see if your court system has a Family Law Facilitator. This person is not a lawyer and cannot give legal advice but can help complete the forms and provide referrals.

Google the term "Parenting Plan" then add "+ your state". Almost every state court provides resources for Parenting Plans.

Parent Education. Your county's local adult education programs may include a program for people going through divorce or child custody proceedings.

Mediation. A mediator can help you and your spouse work through the process. Your local court may provide mediation services or check for a community mediation program in your area. For sources for private mediators check out the Evaluating Potential Mediators section on our Divorce Mediation page.

Online. There are a wealth of resources online. Here are some that seem particularly good.

Child Custody and Divorce. A comprehensive site loaded with free information from a Michigan lawyer. Source for Child Custody Parenting Plans. Downloadable software $12.95. Book and CD $19.95.

Planning for Shared Parenting. A Guide for Parents Living Apart. From the Massachusetts AFFC but good information for all. You can download it for free.

Child Custody Parenting Plan Options. Parenting Plan timeshare options for children of school age. Claims to be"Best of the Net" child custody resource.

Divorce can be hard on the entire family, but it seems children have the hardest time coping with the changes in their lives. When you and your ex-spouse can put your differences aside and continue to co-parent the children, the children will feel happier and more secure.

For more about divorcing collaboratively, click on one of the links below.

To learn more about other conflict resolution topics, click on any of the links below.

Link to This Page

To link to this page, copy the code below and paste into
your website page, article or blog exactly as it is written.

<" target="_blank">All Things Parenting Plans</a>

Thanks for adding a link!