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What is a Parenting Plan?

Updated: 05/04/2023

Est. Reading: 6 minutes

A parenting plan is a written document that lays out the childcare decisions of the parents. It will outline how the parties will make important decisions for the child's upbringing, including who will have decision-making authority and the legal custody plan, in addition to setting a schedule detailing parenting time. This is beneficial for everyone and gives consistency to the children after divorce, allowing them to know in advance when they will spend time with either the custodial or noncustodial parent. A well-planned and followed parenting agreement can help with child development, particularly in a time when they face so many changes. 

Before you begin developing your parenting plan you should be certain you know and fully understand all your parenting rights. You should also work to create a plan that covers major decisions including your child support obligation, plans for a religious upbringing, and agreements for medical expenses, while also providing a parenting time schedule that fosters a healthy parent-child relationship. Our experienced family law attorney at The Law Office of Jeanne M. Wilson can provide you with the legal advice you may need to work through your divorce, including building a parenting plan. Contact us today for a consultation to see what we can do for you.

Why Are Parenting Plans Important?

Parenting plans are an agreement between the parties on how to handle childcare-related issues. This allows the parents to decide what is best for their family's unique needs, rather than hoping a court order will do so. Parenting plans allow for parents to work together to create healthy co-parenting while continuing each parent's relationship with the child.

They also offer each parent the opportunity to work on solutions to issues unique to their family. The entire purpose is to provide stability and structure to the child's family life after the parents separate, which can be particularly important around special occasions such as holidays, or for extra-curricular activities. 

a man bonding with his daughter

For court cases, parenting plans can offer a view into the family dynamic and help keep child support orders and modifications equitable for both parties. They should also serve as a road map for both parents to navigate conflicts without needing to go to court. 

Making a Parenting Plan For Court

A parenting plan is an outline of how separated or divorced parents will raise their children. It is a document required by family courts in divorce cases, as well as most types of cases concerning child custody plans.  

The best way to prepare your plan for the court is in collaboration with the other parent. The two of you know your children better than anyone and can develop a schedule that works best for them and any unique situations facing your family. If the parents are unable to agree on a plan, the court will create one for you. It is still a good idea to submit your own plan to lay out what you think would be in the best interest of your children. 

Important Information For Creating Your Parenting Plan

When making a parenting plan you must abide by the laws and requirements of the state of Colorado. It should have, at a minimum, the following information:

  • A physical custody schedule detailing visitation times, including special occasions such as holidays and vacations
  • An agreement for decision-making responsibilities and the rights each parent has
  • An agreement between the parents detailing parental responsibilities
  • A plan for resolving any disputes that may come up, such as attending mediation or family counseling

In addition to the above, you can include any provisions you feel are important to drafting a complete parenting plan. By taking the time and being thorough now, you will avoid problems in the future. When you have an agreement in place with the other parent, you both know what will be expected when difficulties inevitably arise. 

If you and your ex-spouse are able to be civil in these moments of hardship, it will free you up to spend more time with your child. This can be particularly true around special events such as holidays or vacations, or when financial issues come.

Parenting Plan Pitfalls

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in developing your plan is putting the needs of the child second. As the name of the document says, this is for parenting, making it ultimately about the best interest of the child. The court will want to see that you and the other parent are cooperating to put your child first. 

Some other common things to avoid include:

  • Building a plan that is too vague
  • Failing to write in guidelines for medical care and the associated costs
  • Failing to have a provision for a parent relocating
  • Failing to establish restrictions on interstate or international travel

What to Do if the Other Parent Won't Cooperate

In an ideal situation, both parents will work together to create a plan for court. If the other parent will not work collaboratively with you, you should still make a plan yourself.

The court will usually use the plan they view as being best for the child. Some of the things a judge will use to decide on a parenting plan include: 

  • The maturity and age of the child
  • The financial ability of each parent to provide care for the child
  • The physical, mental, and emotional health of each parent
  • The proximity of each parent to the child's school and extra-curricular activities
  • The proximity of each parent to another family
  • The custody preference of each parent (and of the child if they are mature enough)
  • The legal history of each parent

Can the Other Parent Create a Plan Without Me?

Yes. Either parent can prepare a plan for the court if they cannot create one collaboratively. The court will consider the child's best interests, and choose the better plan for the two, with adjustments as they see fit.

You want to be sure to draft a plan yourself and present it if you are not working with the other parent. If you do not, the court may simply accept the other parent's plan and it could be massively out of your favor. 

Basic Tips

When creating a parenting plan, keep this in mind:

  • Remember that the parenting plan will be a legal document that both parents will be required to follow
  • Build the plan to handle a range of different circumstances, while leaving flexibility to handle changes
  • Tailor your plan to line up with your specific family situation, taking into account the age and development of your child
  • Acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses as a parent and find a way to address them in the plan
  • Consider scheduling a review of the plan once a year to change any aspects that are not working
a woman and her son in a park

What Happens if the Plan Isn't Followed?

Remember that after the court approves a parenting plan it is a legal document. If you do not follow it, you can be found in contempt. If the other parent does not follow the plan you can file a motion to enforce the order, but be sure you continue following the plan even if they do not. 

Parenting Plan for Military Members

If either parent is in the military, you must file a Military Parenting Plan. This includes both active and reserve members of the armed forces, as well as national guard members. This parenting plan will include a provision that details what will happen if one or both parents are deployed. Be sure to include:

  • Who will have caretaking authority during a parent's deployment
  • Who will have decision-making authority during a parent's deployment
  • A method of contact for a deployed parent
  • Establish visitation rights for non-parents
  • Set a method for resolving any disputes that may arise from the deployment

When you get your deployment orders you must give the other parent written notice within 7 days. If the parent who is not deploying has a protective order against the deploying parent, the deploying parent will have to give written notice to the court. This notice needs to include the destination, duration, and conditions of the deployment.

Work With a Family Law Attorney

Separation or divorce can be a complicated situation, but one that still requires communication between parents. A parenting plan will help take some of the tension away by providing a framework for your child custody plan, helping plan out all medical decisions, and setting custody terms for children during school breaks, different school events, and other special occasions. Finances can be a major sticking point for many parents as they work through their separation or divorce, so setting an allocation of expenses for child care in your parenting plan can help curb this. 

Family law can get very complicated as you navigate through the different processes. Our Colorado Springs child custody attorneys at The Law Office of Jeanne M. Wilson & Associates can help provide legal advice to parents that can help them create their own parenting plan while following child support guidelines set by the state of Colorado. Contact our team today to schedule a consultation for your case!

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