In the interests of allowing parents to work out their own details of custody and visitation, many states allow them to mediate the issues and devise a mutually agreeable parenting plan. This plan should cover all the bases regarding each child. Once approved by the court, the plan is merged with the custody order or divorce decree. Many parents submit to mediation voluntarily to work out the details of the parenting plan, and a number of states require parents to attend parenting classes prior to entering into the parenting plan agreement.
Identify the Parents and Children
The parenting plan must identify the parents and the children who are subject to the plan. Only the children of the two parents named on the document are to be included in the plan. In other words, if a mother or father has children from a previous relationship, those children are not included in the divorce parenting plan, even if they live in the home with that parent.
Legal custody refers to each parent's right to make decisions concerning the child. The parenting plan must set forth which parents -- one or both -- are to make decisions concerning the child's education, health care, religious affiliation and discipline. Many parenting plans contain a stipulation stating that in the event the parents cannot agree on a certain issue, one parent is to make the ultimate decision. Also, parents are free to agree to grant one parent sole legal custody, meaning the parent without legal custody is not to be involved in the decision-making process.
Education and Extracurricular Activities
The parenting plan should detail where the child will attend school or daycare, the percentage each parent must contribute to tuition costs, details relating to before- and after-school care and other issues as necessary, including the costs of special needs, tutoring or homeschooling. With regard to extracurricular activities, parents may agree to allow either of them to make unilateral decisions regarding activities, or the agreement may require approval from the other parent for the child to participate in activities. Other education issues are typically addressed, including the costs of uniforms, summer camp, communication with teachers and sharing information, such as school records.
Parenting plans set forth the source of health insurance for the child as well as an allocation of uncovered medical expenses between both parents. The plan lists the child's pediatrician, dentist, specialists and counselors. All parenting plans contain a general provision that in the event of a medical emergency, the parent with knowledge of the situation must immediately contact the other parent. The parents must also agree to communicate with one another about all medical issues regarding the child.
Communication Outside Visitation
Parents are not permitted to alienate the other parent, so many parenting plans set forth a communication schedule allowing the noncustodial parent time to speak with the child on the phone or via other technology such as Skype. The plan may provide details as to the days of the week and times for communication, as well as methods through which the parent and child will communicate. Parents can also arrange a plan for regular communication with each other.
The parenting plan must set forth the days and times of the week each parent is to spend with the child. The child's best interests should be preeminent when making these decisions; maintaining the child's sense of stability is an important consideration in this process. For example, school-age children often spend weekdays with one parent and alternating weekends with the other. The time-sharing plan must also contain a detailed schedule during holidays and school breaks that allows both parents the opportunity to spend time with the child during memorable times.