The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Parenting Plan

What is a parenting plan for divorcing parents?

Parenting plans are a set of guidelines that a divorced or separated couple may create for the purpose of raising their child once they are no longer living together.  A parenting plan attempts to answer many questions related to child custody before the parents actually finalize their divorce.

How do parenting plans help divorced parents with child custody issues?

Parenting plans cannot foresee every possible issue, but they are very useful in predicting many causes of conflict, primarily due to lack of planning. In a sense, a parenting plan becomes a divorced family's constitution. When disagreements occur, parents should refer to the parenting plan to understand what they agreed to do in the situation they find themselves in.  In certain states, a parenting plan is required and becomes the basis for the divorce decree.

What should be included in a parenting plan for divorced parents?

  • A typical parenting plan may address:
  • Time with children (physical custody)
  • Vacations, occasions, and time off from school
  • Long term decision making (legal custody)
  • Custody exchanges (where and when they will occur)
  • Child support amounts (likely require court approval)
  • How disputes will be handled (mediation, binding arbitration, court, etc.)
  • Access to medical records
  • Access to school records, report cards, etc.
  • Vacation itineraries, contact information during vacations, etc.
  • Parenting time (i.e. visitation schedules)
  • Sharing of contact information
  • Rules for contacting relatives and other significant people
  • Extra-curricular activities
  • Sharing of expenses
  • Saving for education expenses (college savings)
  • Taxes
  • Wills


What are some tips and examples that parents should consider when creating a post-divorce parenting plan?

Parenting Time

  • Think of quality before quantity. 50/50 joint physical custody may not be feasible. In many cases, parents get too caught up with the quantity of time they have with the children versus the quality during the time they are together.
  • Consider how long distances will affect everyone involved. It might become impractical for children to play sports on weekends if children have to travel every other weekend to be with the noncustodial parent.
  • Compromise. No matter what led to the divorce, the chances are that you will need to put that aside and think through the reality of how you will do what is best for your children. If you cannot compromise, the post-divorce parenting life you will experience will be significantly more difficult.

Questions to consider

  • How much parenting time with each parent will the children experience?
  • How is visitation handled if the children are not part of a joint custody arrangement?
  • How will this affect the children’s ability to commit to sports or extracurricular activities?
  • Who will have the children during the school week?
  • What type of custody schedule will the parents have?

Custody Exchanges

  • Be fair. Don’t expect one parent to take on the brunt of the driving or traveling. Each parent should do their part.
  • Forget who is at fault. Since we are in a time where no-fault divorce has become the law, it is important to forget why the divorce happened. A custody exchange is simply supposed to be a stress free way of changing physical custody from one parent to the other. Don’t make it more than that.
  • Think of rules during the exchange. A custody exchange is not a good time to discuss issues that could lead to conflict. The children are there. Keeping children out of the center of the conflict means they should not witness the disagreements unfolding in front of them. This will only add stress to future custody exchanges for them.

Questions to consider

  • How much gas money will be spent each year while traveling to the exchanges?
  • How much time will children spend traveling to the custody exchanges?
  • Is a supervised exchange necessary or helpful?
  • Is their a significant amount of conflict, such that it is best to have exchanges at a neutral location?
  • Where and when will custody exchanges normally take place?
  • Are there any other guidelines or rules that apply to custody exchange that the parents should follow?

Child Support

  • Remember that child support is for the children. It is based on several variables, including the salary each parent earns and the time each parent has with the children. The assumption is that the more time a parent has with the children, the more they will spend on the children. Whether this is accurate or not, that is the assumption the court will make when they use their child support calculation.
  • Try to reach an agreement on child support, together. A court may or may not approve a child support settlement between the parents. If the amount they agree on deviates too much from the law, the court may reject it and impose a different amount, but by trying to agree on an amount, it becomes much more likely that both parents will be accepting of the idea behind the support amount and be apt to abide to it without court intervention.
  • Child support is legally binding. Failure to pay child support can lead to legal action being taken, which can include jail time. By mutually agreeing to it beforehand, the chance of one party not paying their child support is significantly reduced.

Questions to consider

  • Who will pay child support?
  • How much will be paid?
  • How will future salary changes affect child support?
  • How will expenses not covered by child support be paid?

Unexpected Expenses

  • Understand that expenses with a child can come up unexpectedly. Not everything can be planned, and not everything is factored into child support. Will a child need braces? Will a child get swimming lessons? Is a child going to summer camp one year? These are all examples of expenses that may be incurred, which may or may not be covered by child support. Divorced parents should discuss what child support does or does not cover.
  • Think about how activities or issues that lead to unexpected expenses will be decided on. If a child wants to go on a field trip that costs $300, is it fair that one parent simply assumes the child should go, and then expects the other to pay for it? Unexpected expenses lead to a lot of unnecessary conflict, so it is wise to think about these situations a lot, beforehand.

Questions to consider

  • How will you define an “unexpected expenses”?
  • How are unexpected expenses to he handled?
  • Are all expenses assumed to be cover by child support
  • Are their some expenses that are not?
  • Can one parent choose to spend money on an expense for the child and expect the other to cover part of it?

Communications and Parenting Strategies

  • Think about how children will change as they age. Issues that don’t exist right now will arise later. It is important that divorced parent find ways to collaborate on issues about the children as their needs evolve.
  • Think about the big talks. How will parents talk about drugs, sexual identity, and other issues as the children grow up. Children of divorce tend to experience more negative effects than other children, in part because their parents never effectively discussed these bigger issues with them.

Questions to consider

  • How will decisions be made regarding the raising of the children?
  • Will children have the same rules in both households?
  • How will discipline be standardized?

Conflict Resolution

  • Take the time and effort to do an accurate parenting plan now. It will pay off dividends later. Not having a parenting plan that has consider most conflict triggers, leads to a significantly higher potential for conflict and litigation later.
  • Consider mediation and binding arbitration if an agreement cannot be reached. It is significantly less expensive than litigation, which could cost both parent more than $500 per hour in combined legal fees.

Questions to consider

  • How will conflicts be resolved?
  • What are most likely sources of conflict?
  • Will both parents adhere to visitation schedules, timely child support payments, and keeping children out of the middle of conflict?

Decision Making

  • Consider potential differences with regard to long-term child rearing decisions. Long term medical care, schooling, and religion are the bigger issues. If there is a difference in opinion as to how the parents will want to raise the children, consider how you will be able to compromise.
  • Understand that there is a big difference between legal custody and physical custody. Typically parents have joint legal custody, even if one parent is the primary custodial parent. The noncustodial parent still has equal decision-making rights in the cause of joint legal custody.

Questions to consider

  • Which parent(s) have legal custody of the children after the divorce?
  • What are the differences in how you both may want to raise the children?
  • How will ideas about long-terms decisions be brought up?

Vacations and Holidays

  • It is important to compromise on holiday schedules. A typical arrangement might involve alternating holidays each year. Dad might have the children on Christmas on odd years and mom on even years.
  • Winter school break is typically almost a two week period, so dividing it is a good way to make sure that even the parent who doesn’t have the children on Christmas Day, still gets ample time over winter break for an early or late Christmas with the children.
  • Consider other holidays or occasions that are important. Depending on religion, consider those religious holidays. Mothers Day and Fathers Day are typically allocated to the respective parent.
  • Birthdays can be a challenge. Alternating years is one idea, but birthdays are often in the middle of the week. Some parents can work it out so both parents can be there on birthdays. Some cannot. If not, find ways to compromise on some acceptable way to celebrate birthdays.

Questions to consider

  • How will children spend time with each parent during holiday, school breaks, or other extended recurring times?
  • How will the noncustodial get more parenting time by using holidays in a way that doesn’t leave out the custodial parent?

Vacation and Travel Itineraries

  • When parents travel with their children on vacations, the other parent has a right to know the details of the traveling. Consider how this information will be relayed. Think about flight numbers, dates, contact information at hotels, emergency contact, etc.

Questions to consider

  • How do parents share itineraries, addresses, and contact information when children are traveling?
  • If an emergency happens while traveling, how will the other parent be notified, or how can the other parent contact the traveling parent?
  • If a change in a vacation itinerary happens, how will the other parent learn of it?

Schools Records

  • Consider how each parent will have access to school records. Often, the custodial parent is responsible for sending these records to the noncustodial record. As more and more schools have these records online, this may be as simple as making sure both parents have the web-link for the school records.
  • Consider how both parents will discuss and handle issues with school records. If a child earns a bad grade, work out a way that you might handle the situation.

Questions to consider

  • How will education records, report cards, and other school information be shared?
  • How will bad grades be handled?
  • How will good grades be handled?

Extracurricular Activities

  • The custodial parent should make every attempt to help the noncustodial parent know where and when games or events that the children are involved in will occur.  The noncustodial parent should make every attempt to be at those events.
  • Consider the distance that the parents will live apart and how that will affect the ability of the children to play in sports or other extracurricular activities.

Questions to consider

  • What sports or other activities are the children involved in, and what information about those activities should be shared?
  • How will the custodial parent share the important events that the child is involved in with the noncustodial parent?

Health Care

  • Assuming both parents have legal custody, consider ways of logistically informing each other in a timely manner about important health issues involving the children.
  • Consider how the custodial parent will inform the noncustodial parent of contact information for the family pediatrician, dentist, or any other medical professional the children see.

Questions to be considered

  • What doctors will be seen?
  • What notification requirements are expected during emergencies?
  • How are health records to be shared?

How does the type of child custody affect a parenting plan?

It is crucial to know the type of child custody that you will both have in order for an effective parenting plan to be created. Joint custody arrangements would have a drastically different parenting plan than a sole custody or other type of custody arrangement. None of the questions that a parenting plan seeks to answer can be answered until the custody arrangement is fully understood.

If both parents have legal custody of the children, then both parents share in decision-making authority.  If only one parent has legal custody, then only that parent has the legal right to make decisions on the child’s behalf.


What are the benefits of a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a predetermined document where both parents agree to terms of their divorced parenting relationship beforehand. It can be thought of as a constitution for your parenting relationship. Some of the benefits of having a parenting plan are:

  • Parents pre-think the situation, before they end up in even higher conflict.
  • Parents are better equipped to keep their children out of the middle of conflict.
  • Parents set goals and guidelines that are in the best interest of the child.
  • Parents are better able to co-parent or parallel parent their children.


Are parenting plans for divorcing parents required by law?

Some states, countries, and jurisdictions require a parenting plan to be created. Others do not; however, creating a parenting plan is a great idea, whether it is required or not. Simply thinking through situations that can arise in advance will help keep both parents out of conflict much more than without a parenting plan.  Not having a parenting plan can lead to unnecessary conflict, costly litigation, and negative effects on the children as a result of the divorce or separation.

A parenting plan can also help give divorced parents more control over how decisions related to child custody will occur. When decisions about child custody are made by the court, the parents are not in control over the decision. Not only is this significantly more costly than having a parenting plan, it leads to one or more parties being unhappy with the final decision.  This can create a cycle of prolonged conflict.

Binding arbitration is an option that parents can adopt in a parenting plan, so that litigation can be avoided in disputes. In binding arbitration, if a disagreement occurs that the parents cannot resolve themselves, and arbitrator can listen to both parents and choose the best course of action the parents will take. This is in lieu of going to court and helps to avoid significant legal expenses.


Parenting Plan Worksheets
If your state requires a parenting plan for your post-divorce custody relationship, you will need to work with your ex to create them. Parenting plan worksheets can help you create workable parenting plans.
Parenting Plan Guide
Great PDF formatted guide to creating a parenting plan!

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