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If you are a parent and plan on divorcing, or if you had a child without being married, it is likely that you will need a Parenting Plan.  A Parenting Plan is intended to allocate the parenting functions between both Mom and Dad.

When developing a Parenting Plan, you will need to put your own self-interests aside, and ask yourself how you and your ex will be able to raise a well-adjusted child together.  Many questions will need to be answered.  Where will your child primarily live?  When will your child visit the other parent?  How do you share holidays?   When can you go on vacation?  Can you move with your child?  Essentially, your child’s future will be mapped out on this one document that you and the other parent will be expected to follow as your raise your child together.   

When you file your Petition for Dissolution, or when you file your Petition for a Parenting Plan, you will have the opportunity to draft your own Parenting Plan, present it to the court, and ask the court to adopt your Parenting Plan.

How does a court decide where a child will reside? 

A court will make a decision about where a child will reside using the best interests of the child test.  Some of the relevant parenting factors considered by the court include the following: 

  • The wishes of the child’s parent(s)
  • The wishes of the child
  • The child’s interaction and/or interrelationship with the child’s: parent(s) sibling(s); and any other person who affects the child’s best interests
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  • Physical abuse or threat of physical abuse against the parent(s) and/or child
  • Chemical dependency issues of either parent
  • Continuity and stability of care
  • Developmental needs of child
  • Parent’s failure to financially support a child
  • Parent’s failure to pay birth related costs
  • Level of contact with both parents

What should I do the first time I meet with a lawyer?

When you meet with your lawyer for the first time, make sure you clearly state your goals and consider the type of Parenting Plan that you would like your attorney to draft.  Make sure you consider the following: 

Time Sharing Arrangement: Consider whether you would like you or your spouse to be the primary parent?  What type of visitation schedule do you have in mind?  Every other weekend?  A schedule with equal time at both homes?  When you create a proposed parenting plan, try to think about your day to day work schedule and your spouse’s work schedule.  What type of a parenting schedule will give you the most time in light of your work schedule and other commitments?

Summer Vacations: Try to determine how much vacation time you would like to spend with your children during the summer. 

Holidays: Think about the different holidays that you celebrate and the traditions involving those holidays.  Usually, the court will rotate the holidays.  For example, if one parent gets Thanksgiving one year, typically, the other parent will get Thanksgiving the next year.  The Christmas Holiday is a tricky holiday to share, and it often depends on family traditions and what makes sense.  Does one parent celebrate Christmas Day whereas the other parent celebrates Christmas Eve?  Alternatively, does one parent travel to see their family every Christmas break?  If so, that party may request alternating Christmas breaks.   Usually, an experienced family law attorney can assist you with creating a holiday schedule that works for your family.

Most importantly, never, ever lie to your lawyer.  Usually the truth comes out in custody proceedings, and if you lie to your lawyer, it often comes out for the first time in court.  If your lawyer is aware of certain negative facts, your lawyer can sometimes minimize any damage to you and your case. 

Can I keep the other parent away from the child? 

Unless the other parent’s rights have been terminated, or the court determines that the other parent is a risk to the health, safety, or emotional well-being of the child, the Court will probably allow the other parent to have some contact with the child. 

If you choose to keep the other parent away because you do not like the other parent or because you are angry, you are walking on thin ice.  Should you keep the other parent away from the child, you need to have a strong reason and proof that the other parent would be harmful to the child’s health, safety, or emotional well-being.  If you are considering keeping the child away from the other parent, and believe the other parent is a risk, you should contact an experienced family law attorney immediately to further evaluate the matter before you withhold contact.

Can I keep the other parent’s girlfriend or boyfriend away from my child?

Unless the new girlfriend or boyfriend is a threat to the child, you usually cannot keep your child away from the new significant other.  However, courts sometimes frown upon a parent who exposes his or her children to multiple, sporadic relationships.  Hence, if your ex is exposing your child to every new partner that walks in the door, your ex may have some explaining to do to the court. 

What type of information is covered in a Parenting Plan:  


  • Residential schedule of the child
  • Designation of primary or joint custodian
  • Visitation schedule
  • Holiday schedule
  • Summer vacation schedule
  • Sharing of clothing between homes
  • Telephone contact
  • Appropriate conduct of both parents
  • Ability to access medical information
  • Ability to access school information
  • Ability to access extracurricular schedules
  • Who makes medical decisions and other decisions
  • Child support amount
  • Health insurance information
  • Who makes day to day decisions

Each Parenting Plan can be specifically tailored to address the needs of each family.  Some families have a concern about second hand smoke or piercings, and that information is added.  Each family is unique, with its own unique concerns and issues, and anything that affects the parenting and best interests of the child can be added to the Parenting Plan.

What is the purpose of a Parenting Plan?

A Parenting Plan is intended to:

  • Protect the best interests of the child
  • Provide for the physical care of the child
  • Maintain the child’s emotional stability
  • Minimize the child’s exposure to parental conflict
  • Provide for the child’s changing needs as he or she grows or matures
  • Set forth the authority and responsibility of each parent
  • Encourage the parents to reach agreements

I am a Dad, and I’ve heard that Moms usually get custody of the children?

Courts are bound to be gender-neutral, and are required to look at the best interests of the child test when awarding custody. Assuming all other factors are equal, sometimes mothers are awarded the children because they are “stay at home” Moms which gives them more available time to parent. Also, sometimes Moms have an advantage when breast-feeding an infant. However, more and more, courts are awarding children to Dads who have proven themselves to be better parents under the best interests of the child test.