The Top 20 Things to Consider When Creating a Parenting Plan

The Top 20 Things to Consider When Creating a Parenting Plan

Whether you are going through a divorce or a proceeding for allocation of parental responsibilities, creating a parenting plan can be a stressful and overwhelming endeavor.  There are several things that you should keep in mind when working with your co-parent to create a parenting plan.  This guide of the top 20 things you should consider when creating a parenting plan is designed to help you get started on your parenting plan while also deescalating conflict.


  • Your parenting plan should focus, first and foremost, on the needs of your children.


  • Your children’s needs are always evolving.  What is appropriate for a two year old is likely not the same as what is appropriate for a twelve year old.  Therefore, you must recognize that your parenting plan will evolve over time.


  • Educate yourself on your child’s developmental needs and milestones so that you can assess how a particular parenting plan will work for your child given his or her age and development.  There are many resources available regarding child development, including many skilled mental health practitioners who are often willing to meet with parents to help assess a child’s needs.


  • Communicate with the other parent in a respectful, business-like manner.  While discussions regarding children are often emotional, don’t let your emotions over-take you.


  • If necessary, take a break and come back to the parenting plan when you can address the other parent in a business-like manner.


  • Be as specific as possible when creating a parenting plan.  The more specific you can be, the less likely that conflict will arise at a later date regarding the interpretation of the parenting plan.  For example, state exactly when and where exchanges of the child will take place and who will be responsible for transportation.  Also be sure to define the dates and times of all holidays (i.e. Thanksgiving is defined as Thursday at 9 a.m. until Friday morning at 9 a.m.).


  • Put your agreements in writing and always submit them to the court to become court orders.  Doing so does not mean that you do not trust the other parent.  Rather, it creates clear expectations for both parents and allows for accountability, which may help reduce conflict in the future.


  • Understand that life happens, and there are times that the parenting plan will need to be slightly adjusted or a parent may run late for an exchange.  As long as one parent does not consistently deviate from the parenting plan, try to be understanding when these events occur.  After all, there may come a time when you are running late or would like to switch parenting days with the other parent and you would like the same courtesy in return.


  • In Colorado, we no longer use the term “custody.”  Instead, a parenting plan consists of parenting time and decision-making.  Parenting time refers to the schedule of when the child will be with each parent.  Decision-making refers to who will make decisions for the child in four major areas—education, extracurricular activities, medical/dental, and religion.


  • The standard for determining parenting time and decision-making is what is in a child’s best interests.


  • In general, a parent may not restrict the other parent’s parenting time (for example, the parent can only have supervised contact with the child) unless the child is endangered when with that parent.  If you truly have concerns that your child is physically or emotionally endangered when with the other parent, you should consult with an attorney to determine the best course of action.


  • You should never put your children in the middle of a conflict by asking them to choose between their parents.  No matter what you may think of the other parent, you should always do your best to support the child’s relationship with the other parent.


  • When creating a parenting plan with the other parent, you have the opportunity to be much more creative, specific, and in-depth than a court can do for you.  If you are not able to reach an agreement, a judge will decide what is in your child’s best interests.  The judge will only hear from you for a few hours, or at best, for a few days.  A judge simply cannot learn everything about you, the other parent, and your child in that short amount of time.  Therefore, the best parenting plans are created by the parents themselves.


  • If you have difficulty communicating with the other parent in person, consider implementing a communication protocol, such as all communication will be via email.  Set the parameters for what type of communications are permitted (i.e. only to discuss issues regarding the child).


  • Do not use your child as a spy for what your co-parent is doing.  Involving your child in a dispute with the co-parent will only serve to harm your child.


  • Be realistic about how much time you can spend with your child.  This is not the time to be thinking about child support and how much you will pay based on the timeshare.


  • You should allow the other parent to have reasonable phone contact with the child during normal waking hours when the child is in your care.  Unless legitimate safety concerns exist, allow your child privacy when communicating with the other parent.


  • In addition to parenting time and decision-making, be sure to include provisions regarding child support, other financial obligations, such has how to divide the cost of extra-curricular activities and extraordinary medical expenses, how to divide tax dependency exemptions, etc. in your parenting plan.


  • Remember that even if your relationship with the other parent has ended, you both will always be co-parents.  Be respectful to your co-parent and ask for that same respect in return.  You don’t have to be friends with your co-parent, but you should approach every dispute with an open-mind and focus on what is best for your child.


  • A parenting plan is a very important legal document.  If you are not already working with an attorney, consider having an attorney review the parenting plan before you sign it.  A well-drafted initial parenting plan helps reduce future conflict.

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