When it comes to child custody in divorce, your parenting plan will be the law that governs co-parenting your children. A well written plan will help keep your children’s lives predictable and aid in minimizing conflict between you and your ex. This guide will help you consider what topics to include in when creating your parenting plan.
What Is A Parenting Plan
A parenting plan is a written agreement that outlines how you and your spouse will raise your children after divorce. It should lay out when each parent should see the children, how decisions about the children are made, and how information is shared between parents.
A well written parenting plan will be focused on the best interests of the children. Since both parents agree before signing off on the plan, it’s an amicable way to start a successful co-parenting relationship with your ex spouse. By setting clear guidelines and expectations the parenting plan reduces conflict and encourages consistency.
A parenting plan should be detailed but also allow the parties to agree on temporary changes. Things that don’t seem like a big deal today can become huge disagreements later, so it’s better to be very specific in the parenting plan so everyone knows what is going to happen.
Keep in mind that this is only a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Seek out the assistance of an attorney to discuss specific issues that may be a factor in your case.
Topics to Consider When Making a Parenting Plan
The Residence of the children. This is important because the residential parent (a.k.a. Custodial parent) is the recipient of child support in New York. It’s also important because it determines the children’s address for school.
Pick Up and Drop Off. It is very important to include details about drop off and pick up as this will become a source of disagreement at some point. Include specific times, days, location, and which parent will be responsible for transporting the children. Keep in mind any orders of protection or safety issues.
Changes to the parenting schedule. Inevitably temporary chances to the schedule will have to be made. A parent may be sick,out of town for work or other unforeseen circumstances can require a change in the schedule. Discuss how schedule changes will be made (Phone call? Text? Email?), how much notice must be given and if there will there be make-up time.
Communication with children while with the other parent. The children must be allowed to communicate with the other parent. Discuss the parameters of this communication.
Children’s belongings. Will the children bring personal items back and forth between homes or will each parent be responsible for providing items at their house. This may seem trivial but it is a frequent source of disagreement and will be important to your child.
Child’s social activities. Discuss what happens if the children have a birthday party or extracurricular activity. Determine how these events can be scheduled (Can mom RSVP to a birthday party that happens during dads parenting time?),who is responsible for taking the child, and who is responsible for purchasing any gifts or equipment the child may need for the event or activity.
Childcare. Decide who watches the children if the person with parenting time is unavailable. Will the other parent have right of first refusal? Or will you agree on a list of sitters that you both trust?
Vacations & holidays
Consider how you will divide school breaks, summer vacation and religious holidays. Common options include:
Children spend certain holidays with one parent every year.
Holidays alternate between parents each year.
Stick to the regular schedule.
Be specific about times. I urge my clients set specific pick up and drop off times for holidays and include “or any other times agreed upon by the parties.” That way you have flexibility to agree on whatever times you want, but if there is any disagreement you can go by the parenting plan. If you don’t have specific times included in your parenting plan, what happens when mom wants the kids at 8am on Mother’s Day but dad doesn’t want to bring them until noon?
Other significant days. Consider birthdays (parents and children’s) and other events such as family weddings, graduations, funerals, etc. Having a plan now makes it easier later.
Decisions About Health care
If you have joint custody, consider how decisions about medical or dental care will be made. Include what happens if you can’t agree.
Emergency medical treatment. Determine how you will notify each other if the child needs to go to the ER or receive emergency medical treatment.
Arrangements for doctors appointments. Discuss who will make appointments and who will take the child to the appointment. Also include who picks up prescriptions, etc.
Access to medical records. Typically both parties will have access.
Care of sick child. Who will take time off work? Can the other party come over to visit?
Health Insurance card. Who will hold the card? Can you get two copies? Will the card go with the child?
If you have joint custody, discuss how decisions about any change in school, school programs or tutoring will be made.
Parent-teacher conferences and school events. Decide if you both WILL attend or alternate attendance.
Field trips. Consider who signs permission slips (Either parent? Must you notify the other parent?) who will pay fees for trips, who will chaperone.
School absences. Discuss why the child can be absent and if the other parent must be notified. School absences and tardiness is a hot button issue in many custody cases. You can minimize conflict by coming to an agreement.
Religious upbringing and activities. How will you make decisions about religion? Are there any religious activities that you both agree the children will participate in?
Vacation Time. It is standard in New York parenting plans to give each parent at least 2 weeks of uninterrupted parenting time that could be used for travel with the children.
Notice of travelling with the child. Consider when notice must be given. Do you want notice if they go to the Jersey shore for the weekend, or any travel that involves a flight? Determine what type of information the traveling parent needs to supply. Typically it includes a travel itinerary, where they will be staying, and a way to contact the children during the trip.
Child’s Passport. Who will keep the child’s passport? Will each parent cooperate in obtaining a passport for the child and signing any consents required for the child to travel?
Communication between parents
Method of communication. Depending on the nature of your relationship, you may want to limit communication with your ex to traceable methods such as texts or email.
Type of information to be communicated. Again, depending on the nature of your relationship, you may want to include a clause that all communication be directly related to the children. This can help limit harassment from an angry or high conflict ex spouse.
Discipline and rules. If you had rules for the children during the marriage and you want to maintain that consistency between households, you can agree to include those rules in the parenting plan. For example, homework, bedtimes, hair color, allowance, piercing, tattoos, driving, use of phone, use of computer, dating and employment.
Pets. If the children have a pet will it go between household with them?
Birthday and holiday gifts. Will you continue to buy gifts together? Will you discuss gifts so you don’t get the same things?
Involvement of new partners. Discuss when to introduce new partners to the children. In my experience this is the biggest source of tension in most custody matters. The key is being realistic. You can’t prevent your ex from introducing the children to a new partner, but you can agree on a way to do it that is in the best interest of the children. That can include an agreement that the no introduction is made unless you have been dating the person for a specified amount of time or that the other parent has to be introduced before the children can be introduced.
Another related issue is the new partner posting pictures of the children on social media. If this is a big deal for you, you may want to discuss including parameters in the parenting plan.
Relocation. In New York, if there is a custody or visitation order you cannot relocate any distance that will impair the other parent’s access to the children without leave of the court or written permission of the other parent. Many people like to define a geographic scope such as within a certain number of miles, within the state or within the five boroughs.
Process for making changes to the parenting schedule. Include how the agreement can be changed. For example, you can say that temporary changes can be made by text or email but permanent changes must be in writing and notarized.
Parenting plans are the blueprint for an effective co-parenting relationship. While it’s not a magical instrument that will make all of your parenting problems go away, it is a great source to turn to when you and your ex cannot agree.
There are many things to take into consideration when drafting a parenting plan so the best way to make sure you are not omitting any important issues is to consult with a New York divorce attorney.