How to Create a Co-Parenting Plan?

Divorcing spouses who have minor children need to resolve child custody and maintenance issues. To avoid lengthy and stressful court proceedings on this matter, parents should come to an agreement and create a parenting plan that will determine where and with whom their children will live most of the time, where they will study and spend their weekends, who will get physical custody, etc. Parenting plans for divorce may differ depending on how many children parents have, what is the reason for their divorce, whether their children have special needs, and other circumstances.

This article will focus on how to make a co-parenting plan, what terms to include, and what visitation schedules to choose after divorce in every specific situation.

What Is a Co-Parenting Plan?

A divorce parenting plan is a written agreement between divorcing spouses regarding issues of physical and legal custody, visitation, and support of minor children.

When parties have a contested case with disputes on child-related matters, the court can decide on parenting plan terms for them. After the judge signs the plan, parents must strictly follow it. However, if parents cooperate and can independently resolve all disagreements regarding the future of their children, they may create a co-parenting plan themselves and submit it to the court for approval. Usually, parties will have to attend at least one court hearing where the judge will review their agreements. If the court finds the parenting plan fair, it will most likely be approved at the first trial.

Signing a parenting plan is important in any divorce involving minor children. Dissolution of marriage can be difficult for them since they will need to get used to the new conditions of their life. A co-parenting plan can make this transition easier and allow them to adapt to new circumstances faster.

In addition, it will make the divorce process less stressful for all parties involved since spouses will not need to participate in court battles and spend time and money on long-term cooperation with a lawyer.

The conclusion of a joint parenting plan means that parties will have shared child custody and will both take part in their children’s lives. This is an important factor because kids need the attention of both parents, while spouses having equal parental responsibilities can make important decisions together and provide stable financial support for their children. Additionally, a settlement agreement will help to maintain friendly relations between future ex-spouses and their kids.

Consider Your Child’s Interests and Needs

When working on a parenting plan, spouses must take into account the child’s physical and emotional needs and act in their best interests.

Children’s physical needs include living conditions, education, medical care, clothing, food, etc., while emotional ones refer to ensuring proper mental health, maintaining relationships with parents and friends, spiritual development, etc.

Undoubtedly, divorce will be a difficult test not only for you but also for your children. That is why, having decided to terminate your marital relationship and create a shared parenting plan, you should pay attention to the following questions:

  • How to talk to your child about divorce?

Before you file for marriage dissolution with the court, you should tell your children about it if they are old enough to understand what is going on. To not disturb their emotional balance, you must reassure them that you love them and will be as involved in their lives as you were during the marriage. Children should not hear about your divorce from other people and must not be deceived by you about the breakdown in your relationship.

  • How does divorce affect a child?

As parents, you know your children’s temperament best, so you should try to predict how they might react to this news. They may be shocked and stressed out, and this reaction is absolutely natural. You need to prepare them for the new chapter in their lives and explain what will change after the divorce, using age-appropriate language. Do not forget to consider their wishes about where to live, study, and spend their holidays.

  • How bad is divorce for a child?

For every child growing up in a full-fledged family, divorce will be traumatic because from now on, their parents will reside separately, and their lives will not be as before. To make the divorce process and after-divorce period easier and less stressful for them, spouses should develop a proper parenting plan so that they both spend enough time with their children and kids do not feel lonely or abandoned by one parent.

  • How to divorce without hurting your child?

Usually, during divorce, children are most affected by the disputes between their parents and the deterioration of their relationship. When discussing a parenting plan, you need to pay attention to all the factors that can harm the mental or even physical health of children and reduce their negative impact. Think over the visitation schedule and note what environment children are adapted to and with which of you they have a closer relationship.

Making a plan for your parental rights and responsibilities can be a very difficult task, so you should be careful and think twice about the terms you should agree on with the other parent.

Key Elements of a Co-Parenting Plan

A shared parenting plan concluded between divorcing spouses should contain as much information on the distribution of rights and responsibilities between parents as possible. A detailed plan will help to prevent disputes and determine the course of action during any extraordinary situation in the future.

What to include in a parenting plan depends on the circumstances of each case. Although the list of issues to be resolved in a co-parenting plan may be very long, it can be divided into 4 major groups:

  • Child Support

After divorce, both parents must maintain minor children. Child support in California is calculated based on the monthly income of parents, taking into account with whom children live most of the time or which parent has sole custody. Usually, the parent who lives separately pays child support to the other to ensure the basic needs of their children are met. If spouses cooperate, they can independently determine the amount of their child’s monthly support.

When does child support start during divorce? In most cases, one of the parents starts paying it after the court approves the divorce. However, sometimes, a judge can order retrospective support that must be compensated for the time of the divorce process. If parents cannot agree on who will support their children during the divorce, they can file additional requests with the court for the issuance of temporary orders.

In addition to determining the amount of child maintenance, parents also need to decide who pays for child health insurance after divorce, who will cover extra expenses, if any, etc. It is also worth discussing payment methods and actions of each spouse in case the other owes money for supporting children.

  • Custody Arrangements

Who gets custody of a child in divorce depends on the agreements of spouses or a court order. Custody of minor children can be joint or sole. Single custody means that all important decisions will be made by only one spouse, while the joint one assumes that both parents will decide over their children’s lives together. However, even if custody is shared, parties should develop a custody schedule to specify the time children spent with each parent and delegate routine issues connected with education, medical care, etc. Parents may also agree in advance whether they need each other’s permission to travel or move with kids to another city if necessary.

Additionally, when creating a parenting plan, spouses should decide on conditions for communication with each other, a procedure for resolving conflict situations, a place and method of exchanging children according to the schedule, compensation for their transportation costs, and an order of meetings with other relatives.

If there is no parenting plan on who has custody, it will be decided by the court, taking into account the interests and needs of children following their age, state of health, habits, and other factors.

  • Physical Custody Arrangement

Since there are several divorce custody options, parents creating a parenting plan must determine which spouse the children will reside with and who will have visitation rights. The terms of physical custody must define the days when children stay with each parent so that their interests are not harmed and they communicate sufficiently with both parties.

A parenting arrangement must contain an exact visitation schedule for each spouse, along with agreements over where their children will stay during all holidays and vacations and whom they will celebrate their birthdays with.

  • Legal Custody Arrangements

A legal parenting agreement is part of a plan that defines decision-making and legal parental responsibilities. To help children cope with divorce, parents must agree on who will be responsible for making important decisions and what the kids’ disciplinary, religious, and educational upbringing will be. If they cannot agree, the court will determine such issues, but the divorce process in such a case will be longer and more stressful for all participants.

No matter what terms you have to decide on with your future ex-spouse when creating a parenting plan, it is crucial to understand that it should be flexible and revised as soon as new needs arise. Children’s interests differ according to their age, so you need to adjust the parenting plan as they grow.

Choose a Co-Parenting Schedule

Custody schedules are key terms that should be decided in all parenting plans. Each parenting schedule determines how much time children will spend with both parents. Typically, the best co-parenting schedule is one that has a 50/50 split. However, sometimes, such a shared parenting schedule is not suitable due to the long distance between parents’ homes or an unstable work timetable. A parenting schedule calendar should be developed considering all circumstances of the case and the interests of children. It should contain both a visitation and a co-parenting holiday schedule.

The following structures are among the most commonly used:

  • 50/50 schedules

A 50/50 custody schedule assumes that parents will spend equal time with their children, not just weekends or holidays. A 50/50 parenting schedule can be built by week, which means children live for a week with one of the parents and then with the other. The 5-2-2-5 parenting schedule provides that children will reside in one parent’s house for 5 days, spend 2 days with the other parent, live 2 days in the first parent’s house again, and spend 5 days in the second parent’s house. Such a distribution will allow each parent to spend the weekend with kids in turn. The 3-4-4-3 parenting schedule alternating weekends has a structure similar to the previous one. It ensures that the amount of time parents stay with their kids will be evenly split between workdays and weekends.

  • 60/40 schedules

A 60/40 custody schedule is close to 50/50 but specifies that children will have a so-called extended weekend with one parent every week. The most popular is the 2/2/3 parenting schedule, when children take turns staying with each parent every two days and one weekend.

  • 70/30 schedules

A 70/30 custody schedule means that children will spend 30% of their time with one parent and 70% with the other. It is a good option for kids who are too young to move frequently from one home to another. According to this schedule, children can live 5 days with one parent and then 2 days with the other one or stay with a parent who resides separately every third week.

  • 80/20 schedules

An 80/20 custody schedule is most often used when parents live a long distance from each other. Such a parenting schedule is usually based on spending time with the parent who lives separately every 2nd weekend.

To choose the parenting schedule that suits your family, you need to take into account the specifics of work, place of residence, and needs of children. Please note that similar to a general parenting plan, visitation schedules must be adjusted over time to accommodate new circumstances.