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Parenting Plan basics

Making a comprehensive Parenting Plan is one the best things you can do for your children. Even if your state doesn't require it as part of divorce proceedings, it can be a good idea for any co-parenting couple. Many conflicts can potentially be avoided between parents who do not live together if important decisions such as visitation, medical care, daily care, schooling and financial contributions are agreed upon together.


Use the Parenting Plan document if:

  • You are getting a divorce and your state requires you to submit a Parenting Plan.
  • You are getting a divorce or separation and want to make a Parenting Plan for your own needs.
  • You need to create a co-parenting agreement with someone who is not a spouse.

At the minimum, a Parenting Plan should clearly detail custody and visitation schedules and financial obligations. However, the best parenting plans also address other important topics such as medical rights, religion, vacations, transportation, education and extracurricular activities.


Other names for this document:


Custody Agreement, Parenting Plan Form, Custody and Visitation Agreement


How is child custody decided?


Usually the best option is for the parents to make child custody decisions. However, if the parents cannot come to an amicable agreement, a judge may decide custody. If there are other issues such as a history of abuse or if one or both parents have limitations to parenting (alcoholism, incarceration, mental illness or other) the courts may also help with the custody decisions.


What types of child custody are there?


There are two basic types of custody:

Legal custody:
This type of custody tasks a parent or guardian with the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the child. This includes medical and religious decisions as well as those concerning the child's education.

Physical custody:
Physical custody grants an individual the right to have the child live with them. This can range from sole custody, in which the child lives with the guardian exclusively, to joint custody in which the child lives with each parent on a split basis.

Legal and physical custody also come in sole and joint varieties. As the names suggest, sole custody grants those rights to a single individual whereas joint custody allows those duties to be split between parents or guardians. While most courts try to support both parents in contributing to parental decisions, sole legal or physical custody may be granted if the parents live far apart or if one parent is not routinely involved in the child's life.

Finally, even if one parent does not have legal or physical custody, they may still have visitation rights. In such instances a Child Visitation Letter may be helpful.


How Is child support calculated?


The amount of child support is calculated in accordance to specific state laws and ultimately decided by a judge. Most states use the "income shares model" which is based on the proportional income of the custodial parent to the non-custodial parent. In this model, a child is presumed to need a certain amount of money to be raised, that monthly amount is divided based on the proportional earning power of each parent. For example, a custodial parent earns $2000 a month while the non-custodial parent earns $4000; if the child needs $1500 a month, $1000 (two-thirds) will be paid by the non-custodial parent as they account for two-thirds of the total income of $6000.

Some states decide child support by a percentage of a guardian's income. Under this system, child support is calculated simply as a flat percent of the non-custodial parent's income. Using this method, the paid amount may vary as an individual's income fluctuates.

Regardless of how your state calculates child support, it's important to remember that a judge will have the final say. While child support can be enforced and collected by wage garnishments if necessary, other financial agreements such as who pays for piano lessons is often a separate agreement.


Will my child be covered by medical insurance after divorce?


Children can be included on an employer-provided or a parent's private health insurance plan until the age of 26. Medical insurance coverage for your biological or adopted children has nothing to do with your marital status, but rather whether you have opted in for their coverage. However, if coverage was provided for a step child, the birth parent(s) may have to acquire health insurance for that child after the divorce. Both parents should talk to their divorce lawyer and health insurance provider about coverage options.


What do I need to know before creating a Parenting Plan?


Parenting Plans can be as complex or as simple as the parents desire. But all will include important basic topics such as custody and visitation schedules. Most parents include more information such has alternate holiday schedules, financial obligations (besides basic child support), transportation responsibilities, medical rights, religion guidelines and college education plans. If conflicts arise, a family mediator can help.


What is included in a Parenting Plan?


Often the following topics are contained in a parenting plan:

Custody and visitation
Will one parent be the primary caregiver or will parents share the responsibility? Will both have legal custody? If you've chosen joint physical custody, what times will each parent spend with the children? In most states, custody is difficult to reverse, so you'll want to try to make the right choice the first time. If custody cannot be agreed upon, the courts will decide the custody arrangement. While it is important to map out visitation details, keep in mind that changes may need to be made in the future due to the child's age, where the parents live, employment situations, or other reasons.

Holiday visitation
You'll need to decide what holidays the children celebrate with each parent. Often parents choose to rotate holidays yearly. Other important dates to consider include child and parent's birthdays, traditional family get-togethers, religious holidays and yearly vacations. If parents live close together, they may even choose to split the holiday, such as Christmas Eve with one parent and Christmas day with the other.

Transportation
Whether the parents live far apart or not, transportation is still a big issue. If parents live within the same area, they may share transportation duties such as rides to school or extracurricular activities. You may also choose to assign who transports the children for regular visits. If the kids are teenagers, often parents will choose to share the cost of supplying a vehicle for the child to drive. When parents live far apart it will need to be decided who pays for long distance transportation and whether the children can travel unaccompanied or not.

Childcare and education
If your children will be attending daycare or private school, you'll need to make choices about who picks the childcare provider and how much each parent will pay. Often parents also make choices about who can care for the children outside of school hours, such as grandparents, other family members, teen babysitters and so on. Many parents also want the option of being the first choice for sporadic childcare needs if convenient.

Health insurance
It is a good idea to make provisions to ensure that children have healthcare coverage. Often the person with the most affordable and comprehensive health insurance will cover the children; however, plans should be in place to cover the children if access to reasonably priced coverage is lost. Many parents also agree to share expenses such as premiums and copays.

Medical decisions
While, in most cases, both parents can obtain emergency care for their children, other healthcare decisions are often decided together. Some examples include decisions about immunizations, long-term use of prescription medications, cosmetic medical procedures and mental health care. A more detailed outline may be required to provide for children with special needs. Some parents also include information on diet and exercise.

College and other savings
Some parents put into a Parenting Plan how much each parent is expected to contribute to a college savings plan, such as a 529 plan. Other things parents might save money together for include orthodontics, expensive sports equipment, educational travel and vehicles.

Religion
Even if both parents are not currently religious, it is still important to consider covering this topic in the Parenting Plan. Some parents decide to allow children to attend multiple religious events while others decide to limit exposure until the children are older. Other parents are deeply religious and make detailed plans around religious education and participation.

Communication
Many Parenting Plans include information on how the parents can communicate with the children. Nowadays, many older children are allowed their own mobile phone and have almost unlimited access to their parents. Others are limited to phone calls during certain times. If visitation is restricted or supervision is required, communication may be limited to previewed email or mail correspondence.

Other relationships
You may want to consider including in the Parenting Plan how relationships will be maintained with other family members such as step-siblings, grandparents and cousins. Many also make agreements about how each parent's new dating partners or friends will be introduced to the children.

There is a lot to consider when making an agreeable Parenting Plan. Parents who get along are often able to sit down together and create a workable plan rather easily. If parents are in a tenuous relationship, they may choose to each create a Parenting Plan, then work with a mediator to create one compromised plan. Regardless, even if your state does not require parents to submit a signed plan, it is in everyone's best interest if a functioning Parenting Plan is agreed upon.


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Parenting Plan basics

At the minimum, a Parenting Plan should clearly detail custody and visitation schedules and financial obligations. However, the best parenting plans also address other important topics such as medical rights, religion, vacations, transportation, education and extracurricular activities.


Other names for this document:


Custody Agreement, Parenting Plan Form, Custody and Visitation Agreement


How is child custody decided?


Usually the best option is for the parents to make child custody decisions. However, if the parents cannot come to an amicable agreement, a judge may decide custody. If there are other issues such as a history of abuse or if one or both parents have limitations to parenting (alcoholism, incarceration, mental illness or other) the courts may also help with the custody decisions.


What types of child custody are there?


There are two basic types of custody:

Legal custody:
This type of custody tasks a parent or guardian with the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the child. This includes medical and religious decisions as well as those concerning the child's education.

Physical custody:
Physical custody grants an individual the right to have the child live with them. This can range from sole custody, in which the child lives with the guardian exclusively, to joint custody in which the child lives with each parent on a split basis.

Legal and physical custody also come in sole and joint varieties. As the names suggest, sole custody grants those rights to a single individual whereas joint custody allows those duties to be split between parents or guardians. While most courts try to support both parents in contributing to parental decisions, sole legal or physical custody may be granted if the parents live far apart or if one parent is not routinely involved in the child's life.

Finally, even if one parent does not have legal or physical custody, they may still have visitation rights. In such instances a Child Visitation Letter may be helpful.


How Is child support calculated?


The amount of child support is calculated in accordance to specific state laws and ultimately decided by a judge. Most states use the "income shares model" which is based on the proportional income of the custodial parent to the non-custodial parent. In this model, a child is presumed to need a certain amount of money to be raised, that monthly amount is divided based on the proportional earning power of each parent. For example, a custodial parent earns $2000 a month while the non-custodial parent earns $4000; if the child needs $1500 a month, $1000 (two-thirds) will be paid by the non-custodial parent as they account for two-thirds of the total income of $6000.

Some states decide child support by a percentage of a guardian's income. Under this system, child support is calculated simply as a flat percent of the non-custodial parent's income. Using this method, the paid amount may vary as an individual's income fluctuates.

Regardless of how your state calculates child support, it's important to remember that a judge will have the final say. While child support can be enforced and collected by wage garnishments if necessary, other financial agreements such as who pays for piano lessons is often a separate agreement.


Will my child be covered by medical insurance after divorce?


Children can be included on an employer-provided or a parent's private health insurance plan until the age of 26. Medical insurance coverage for your biological or adopted children has nothing to do with your marital status, but rather whether you have opted in for their coverage. However, if coverage was provided for a step child, the birth parent(s) may have to acquire health insurance for that child after the divorce. Both parents should talk to their divorce lawyer and health insurance provider about coverage options.


What do I need to know before creating a Parenting Plan?


Parenting Plans can be as complex or as simple as the parents desire. But all will include important basic topics such as custody and visitation schedules. Most parents include more information such has alternate holiday schedules, financial obligations (besides basic child support), transportation responsibilities, medical rights, religion guidelines and college education plans. If conflicts arise, a family mediator can help.


What is included in a Parenting Plan?


Often the following topics are contained in a parenting plan:

Custody and visitation
Will one parent be the primary caregiver or will parents share the responsibility? Will both have legal custody? If you've chosen joint physical custody, what times will each parent spend with the children? In most states, custody is difficult to reverse, so you'll want to try to make the right choice the first time. If custody cannot be agreed upon, the courts will decide the custody arrangement. While it is important to map out visitation details, keep in mind that changes may need to be made in the future due to the child's age, where the parents live, employment situations, or other reasons.

Holiday visitation
You'll need to decide what holidays the children celebrate with each parent. Often parents choose to rotate holidays yearly. Other important dates to consider include child and parent's birthdays, traditional family get-togethers, religious holidays and yearly vacations. If parents live close together, they may even choose to split the holiday, such as Christmas Eve with one parent and Christmas day with the other.

Transportation
Whether the parents live far apart or not, transportation is still a big issue. If parents live within the same area, they may share transportation duties such as rides to school or extracurricular activities. You may also choose to assign who transports the children for regular visits. If the kids are teenagers, often parents will choose to share the cost of supplying a vehicle for the child to drive. When parents live far apart it will need to be decided who pays for long distance transportation and whether the children can travel unaccompanied or not.

Childcare and education
If your children will be attending daycare or private school, you'll need to make choices about who picks the childcare provider and how much each parent will pay. Often parents also make choices about who can care for the children outside of school hours, such as grandparents, other family members, teen babysitters and so on. Many parents also want the option of being the first choice for sporadic childcare needs if convenient.

Health insurance
It is a good idea to make provisions to ensure that children have healthcare coverage. Often the person with the most affordable and comprehensive health insurance will cover the children; however, plans should be in place to cover the children if access to reasonably priced coverage is lost. Many parents also agree to share expenses such as premiums and copays.

Medical decisions
While, in most cases, both parents can obtain emergency care for their children, other healthcare decisions are often decided together. Some examples include decisions about immunizations, long-term use of prescription medications, cosmetic medical procedures and mental health care. A more detailed outline may be required to provide for children with special needs. Some parents also include information on diet and exercise.

College and other savings
Some parents put into a Parenting Plan how much each parent is expected to contribute to a college savings plan, such as a 529 plan. Other things parents might save money together for include orthodontics, expensive sports equipment, educational travel and vehicles.

Religion
Even if both parents are not currently religious, it is still important to consider covering this topic in the Parenting Plan. Some parents decide to allow children to attend multiple religious events while others decide to limit exposure until the children are older. Other parents are deeply religious and make detailed plans around religious education and participation.

Communication
Many Parenting Plans include information on how the parents can communicate with the children. Nowadays, many older children are allowed their own mobile phone and have almost unlimited access to their parents. Others are limited to phone calls during certain times. If visitation is restricted or supervision is required, communication may be limited to previewed email or mail correspondence.

Other relationships
You may want to consider including in the Parenting Plan how relationships will be maintained with other family members such as step-siblings, grandparents and cousins. Many also make agreements about how each parent's new dating partners or friends will be introduced to the children.

There is a lot to consider when making an agreeable Parenting Plan. Parents who get along are often able to sit down together and create a workable plan rather easily. If parents are in a tenuous relationship, they may choose to each create a Parenting Plan, then work with a mediator to create one compromised plan. Regardless, even if your state does not require parents to submit a signed plan, it is in everyone's best interest if a functioning Parenting Plan is agreed upon.

Use the Parenting Plan document if:
  • You are getting a divorce and your state requires you to submit a Parenting Plan.
  • You are getting a divorce or separation and want to make a Parenting Plan for your own needs.
  • You need to create a co-parenting agreement with someone who is not a spouse.
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