What is a Parenting Plan

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A parenting plan is a contractual agreement that parents create when they separate or divorce explaining how the parents agree to raise their children while living separately.

In other words, a parenting plan is a custody and visitation agreement that details how time between the two parents will be spent and at what interval, and how decisions will be made regarding the welfare and activities of their children.

Why is a parenting plan important?
The main purpose for creating a parenting plan is for parents to avoid any potential legal issues they may encounter with their former spouse or partner. It is designed to keep any conflict between separating parents at a minimum.

Having a parenting plan also helps the parents consistently do what is in the best interest of their children, and avoids the potential of fighting over custody and visitation. A well-defined plan creates the foundation for both parents to refer to, so that in the case of a disagreement they do not have to rely on memory, but can refer to the agreement for clarity.

A key purpose for creating a parenting plan is that it creates a degree of security and stability for the kids involved. Children don’t always react well to change, and the separation of their parents can be extremely challenging and stressful for children of any age.

While older kids are naturally more adaptable to change, younger kids need to maintain a higher level of consistency in their routine between their parents’ homes.

Who creates the parenting plan?
Parents know their kids better than anyone else, and so it is up to the parents to create the specifics of an agreement regarding how to discipline and raise their children.

What is usually included in a parenting plan?
For younger children, a parenting plan might include an outline for their bedtime routines. Do they sleep in a bed, or a crib? What kind of blanket do they use? What do you do to soothe them when they cry in the middle of the night? Do they fall asleep listening to music? What is their bath time routine like? Do you read to them before bed?

Discipline and praise can also be an integral part of a parenting plan. What do you praise your children for, and how do you praise them? Do you acknowledge them verbally? Give them gifts? Do they earn an allowance? Get stickers?

What happens when they break the rules? Do they get a time-out, get sent to their room, or get grounded? What privileges get revoked? How do they earn them back?

Other circumstances often included in a parenting plan center around daily life and can answer questions like:

What personal care products do you use? What brand of diapers? What formulas? How and when do you potty train? What types of food do you eat? What foods do you not want your children to eat?

What do you do when a child is sick? Do you still exchange with the other parent? Do both parents go to all doctor’s appointments? When do you notify the other parent of illness or injury? What is considered an emergency?

If your child has special needs, or requires special equipment like an inhaler or an epi-pen, the best option is to create a list of these types of items that will need to be duplicated between both households.

While the details inside the plan do matter, the most important part of a parenting plan is maintaining it consistently, following through, and adjusting it as needed. Children always benefit from the consistency of a good routine they can rely on.