custody visitation parenting plan co-parentingNowadays, the term “parenting plan” is much favored over “custody and visitation.” The latter is still used, especially in legal settings. If there are minor children involved in a divorce, a parenting plan must be developed and communicated to the court.

The parenting plan gives some of the details as to how the parents are going to co-parent their children. It can be in greater or lesser detail. The less the parents are able work together collaboratively, the more detail is appropriate because less room is left for misunderstandings.

The cardinal rule for parenting plans is that they should be developed with the best interests of the children in mind.

Parenting Plan Topics

The following areas are included in nearly every parenting plan:

  • a schedule showing when each parent will be with and be responsible for the children on a week-to-week basis;
  • a vacation plan for all school vacations and other possible vacations;
  • how specific holidays and special days (such as birthdays) will be handled;
  • exchanges of the children between the parents;
  • who will have “legal custody” of the children (defined below);
  • who will have “physical custody” of the children (defined below).

Other areas sometimes included are the following:

  • allowed communication between one parent and the children when the children are with the other parent;
  • how the parents will communicate with each other regarding the children;
  • handling of changes to or problems with the parenting plan;
  • provision of child care;
  • what to do if one parent decides to relocate;
  • provision for expected future events such as college for the children.

“Legal custody” refers to the right and responsibility to make decisions related to the health, education and welfare of the children. “Physical custody” refers to who the children live with and are supervised by. Both “legal custody” and “physical custody” can be “joint” (shared) or “sole” (one of the parents).  If the parents share joint legal and joint physical custody, this is sometimes referred to simply as “joint custody.”

Parents are strongly encouraged by the legal system to create their own parenting plan. They have lots of latitude in doing so and their plan will rarely be second-guessed by the court. The court will normally only do so if it has serious concerns about the welfare of the children under the plan.

Judges are in fact prohibited from making parenting plan orders unless the parents have first seen a court mediator to try to work out a plan themselves. Most parents of course work out their parenting plan without needing to go to court, sometimes with the assistance of a private mediator.