Child Custody 101: Making the Perfect Parenting Plan

For many parents, the child custody battle is the most nerve-wracking part of a divorce. During the child custody battle, courts ask each parent to draft a parenting plan that proposes terms for a child custody arrangement (or invites the parents to create a parenting plan together if possible).

Your parenting plan plays a major role in how the court handles the custody battle. Today's blog covers how you can draft a comprehensive parenting plan that pursues your child's best interests and appeals to the court.

First Things First: What's in a Parenting Plan?

Your parenting plan lays out the terms for your child custody and support arrangement.

In most divorces, the court asks parents to try and compromise on a parenting plan. The court always assumes that parents know what's best for their children and prefers to leave the terms of the child custody arrangement up to the parents.

However, if you cannot compromise with your spouse, you may each draft a separate parenting plan and submit it to the court. The court then considers those plans as well as the facts and evidence in crafting a parenting plan for the parties.

Typical information in a parenting plan includes:

  • Conservatorship. This includes which parent will have the right to designate the residence of the child and whether important decisions will be made by joint agreement, will be awarded to each party individually or will be awarded exclusively to one party.
  • A possession and access schedule breaking down how much time the child spends with each parent. This includes weekday and weekend possession, holidays, Spring Break and summer possession schedules. The court can even award the parents equal possession.
  • Any necessary child support provisions.
  • How the parents will handle certain costs for the child, such as medical or dental insurance.
  • How the parents will handle issues in the future, including whether a parenting facilitator will be appointed.

While drafting a parenting plan, you should make an effort to be as reasonable as possible as the court can take any perceived unreasonableness as a negative against you. Even if you aren't on good terms with your soon-to-be-ex, playing nice during the child custody process has several benefits:

  • The court appreciates good behavior. If one party makes good-faith efforts to compromise with the other, the court will take notice. The judge might presume that a parent's temperament during the custody process extends into their home life, so they'll favor the more reasonable parent.
  • It makes the process less stressful for the child. During the divorce, your child might feel torn between you and their other parent. If you remain reasonable throughout the process, you'll lessen the impact of the divorce on your child.
  • It paves the way for a healthy co-parenting relationship. Most courts default to a joint-custody arrangement in which both parents have decision-making rights. Working with your partner to try and compromise on a parenting plan can form the foundation for a healthy co-parenting relationship post-divorce.

With all that said and done, let's cover some of the things you should consider when drafting your parenting agreement.

Leave no Stone Unturned: Consider all Your Options

If there's ever a time when it's appropriate to obsess over details, it's when you're drafting a parenting plan. You should always try to create fallback plans whenever you can to make the parenting plan comprehensive.

For example, most parenting plans stipulate where parents should exchange custody. Often, custody transfers happen at school or a daycare center. But what if neither option is available? You should have a third location in mind that you know will always be accessible, such as a parent’s residence. The more thorough your parenting plan is, the less it will throw you off when things inevitably go awry at some point.

Create a Clause Preventing Parents from Disparaging Each Other

It might be tempting to rant about your ex-partner to your child or to someone else when your child is around, but you should absolutely refrain from doing so—and vice versa. You should consider including a clause stating that neither parent can disparage one another (or each other's families) in front of the child.

You never want your child to feel torn between their parents. Preventing parents from disparaging one another allows your child to have a healthy relationship with both parties.

Encourage Active Communication Between the Parents

One of the biggest issues parents run into when developing a parenting plan is creating a good cop/bad cop dynamic. For example, let's say you have a teenage son. You make a rule stating that your son can't go to parties or hang out with friends unless he finishes all his homework on time and maintains a 3.6 GPA. Your ex, on the other hand, has no such restrictions. How do you think that will play into the parenting dynamic?

Both parents should largely have the same boundaries for behavior from their child. Additionally, both parents should agree on all major parenting decisions, such as whether or not to involve the child in certain activities, what kind of academic standards the child should be held to, how to discipline the child, etc.

Renegotiate Your Parenting Plan

Your parenting plan should not be a static agreement. As your child ages and your or your ex’s circumstances change, you may need to adjust parts of your parenting plan, such as child support payments or expectations you have for your child. Don't be afraid to renegotiate with your ex to avoid future litigation.

At Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers, our child custody attorneys have a wealth of experience working with parents to draft comprehensive parenting plans that pursue the child's best interests.

To learn more or arrange for a consultation with our attorneys, contact us online or via phone at (940) 293-2313.

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