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Parenting Plan Checklist

Parenting Plan Checklist

Parenting plans may be developed by parents, their attorneys, or with the help of a mediator. Many of the components contained in a parenting plan are enumerated in this checklist. Although most parenting plans share similar components, some may not be as detailed as others.

Custody Arrangement:

Questions include physical custody of the children, primary residence of the child (for public school attendance) and parental responsibilities of each parent. No matter which parent may have physical or primary custody it is important to use language that reinforces that the children will have two homes not one.

Joint Legal Custody: Access to Records and Parental Decision Making

  • Identify parenting decisions that will be mutually agreed upon
  • Indicate how parents resolve parenting disputes/impasses
  • Design a decision making procedure regarding choice of physicians and assistance outside routine medical care such as therapy and orthodontia as well as payment arrangements.
  • Optional:
    • If required, determine if there will be a tie breaker when the parents are unable to come to a mutual decision, and if so, identify the type of decision (i.e.: choice of doctor).
    • If the parents share joint legal custody, indicate that both parents shall have access to school and medical records

Time Sharing Arrangement/Living Arrangement

  • Include the parenting time schedule for the school year
  • Establish a protocol in the event a parent is unable to provide care for their child during their scheduled parenting time. Determine if the parents will first offer the other parent the opportunity to care for the child/ren. Determine the number of hours. This is commonly known as “first right of refusal.” Some high-conflict parents may not be able to successfully implement “first right of refusal”. “First right of refusal” requiring several exchanges within a small time frame, may cause undue stress for the family and is not recommended. However, some parents may be able to exercise “first right of refusal” when it results in an overnight which limits the exchanges.
  • Determine provisions for trade offs equal in time.
  • If adjustments lead to one parent losing scheduled parenting time, determine the method of and time frame for make-up of missed time (within one month of missed time).
  • Establish the procedure that will be used when there are school delays/cancellations and absences from school due to illness.

Summer Schedule and Summer Vacations:

Some parents may not want to determine a separate summer schedule. Length and timing of vacation is usually determined by the child’s age, developmental stage, temperament and school schedule. Clarify that the vacation period includes their regular time-share and is not added to the regular time-share arrangement, and may not occur over the other parent’s holiday. For instance, if the parent’s regular time-share is Saturday and Sunday and they are taking their vacation beginning on Saturday, the Saturday and Sunday are the first two days of their vacation period. Whenever possible, use number of “overnights” versus “days” such as “seven overnights from Friday at 6:00 pm until the following Friday at 6:00 pm.” Also encourage vacation periods to overlap with their normal weekend rotation whenever possible.

  • Discuss limitations regarding location of vacations such as in/out of state/country
  • Establish when vacations will occur – summer months and/or during the school year. If vacation occurs during the school year, designate the vacationing parent as the person responsible to contact the school, complete the necessary paperwork for the school, collect homework as well as ensure the child/ren completes the homework prior to the child/ren’s return to school.
  • Determine the number of vacation periods each parent will enjoy
  • Define the vacation period by days and nights rather than one-week
  • Decide if vacation periods will be non-consecutive
  • Clarify whether or not the vacation period will occur over the parents’ regular weekend
  • Identify a deadline for a written notification of the vacation period to the other parent
  • Determine the time in which the vacationing parent provides the other parent with a written itinerary of travel dates/times, location, method of transportation, hotel and flight information, emergency telephone contact.
  • In the event that parents will share an equal amount of weeks during the summer, determine how the week will be designated if the child/ren go to summer camp.


If parents are unable to control their behavior at transfers, design exchanges at the beginning and end of daycare/school or at other neutral locations. Do not plan transfers at police stations unless there is a documented risk to either parent/child.

  • Determine how parents will share transportation
  • Establish the location of the transfers
  • If parents are meeting at a neutral location, determine the length of time each parent shall wait for the children, and identify the procedure for getting the children if the parent leaves after having waited the designated period of time.
  • If high conflict parents, consider outlining the details regarding the transfer such as, remaining in the car, and saying good bye to the child/ren prior to the transfer.

Holiday Schedule:

Holiday schedules generally take priority over the regularly scheduled living arrangement.  It is recommended that days not be used in the definitions of holidays since each school system varies on when they get out of school on a particular holiday. For instance, Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving can become “the day the children are released from school for the Thanksgiving holiday until …” Mother’s and Father’s Day do not alternate. Holidays can be split, alternate in odd and even years as well as be split and alternate morning and afternoon.

  • Determine which holidays the parents want to include in their holiday schedule.
  • Define each holiday with beginning and ending dates and times.
  • Establish if Mother’s and Father’s Day will include the whole weekend or just Sunday.
  • Explore options for holidays that may vary during the year such as the parents’ and child’s birthday.
  • Determine how the time will be spent for week days and weekends.
  • When the holiday schedule interrupts the normal rotation, discuss with the parents if they want to prevent either parent from having more than two weekends in a row. Determine how this be accomplished.
  • Indicate when the child’s birthday will be shared. Also determine who will host the birthday party for friends and classmates in order to prevent having friends invited to two parties. If alternating years, this parent would plan, invite and pay for the child’s “peer” party that year. Determine if both parents will be invited and if the party will be scheduled for a day that is part of their time-share arrangement.
  • Determine if they have any special religious observances that they will like to include in their holiday schedule.

Extracurricular Activities:

  • Discuss any limitations on the number of activities each child will participate in each year.
  • Decide which parent will schedule and pay for the activities. (Payment of activities may be part of child support. It may not be indicated in the court order)
  • Discuss transportation to and from the activity. The custodial parent (parent with the child) usually provides transportation.
  • Determine if there will be any restrictions regarding adult attendance at extracurricular activities.

Parental Communication Expectations:

Encourage parents to notify the co parent when they are traveling out of town without the children in the event of an emergency or in case the child would like to contact the absent parent.

  • Determine frequency and method of communication, such as phone calls, e mail, text, facsimile, meeting in public places, written correspondence or “Our Family Wizard.
  • Discuss deadlines, such as written requests for change in schedule made 72 hours prior to the anticipated change in schedule with the receiving parent responding within 12 hours.”
  • Specify exact time for weekly parental communication.
  • Designate a parent that will initiate contact with the other parent.
  • Clarify any important communication ground rules including topics that are off limits.
  • Clarify when both parents should return to the parenting coordinator to assist with issues they are unable to resolve on their own.
  • Develop a system with deadlines for exchange of communication:
    • non-time sensitive parenting information
    • time-sensitive information
    • emergencies
    • activity schedules, report cards, etc.
    • school records, information and activity schedule
    • notification and outcome of appointments

Inclusion Expectations:

  • Determine the parent who will schedule routine appointments.
  • Decide if one or both parents will attend well check-ups or consultations.
  • Consider parental behavior and decide if both parents will attend all school and extra-curricular activities and parent-teacher conferences.
  • Discuss both parents’ name and information on all emergency cards
  • Establish parental involvement in school field trips and parties.
  • Decide how children will be transported to therapy appointments, and if parents would like to alternate taking the child.

Parent-Child Communication:

  • Determine the time and frequency of phone calls between the child and absent parent.
  • Decide who will initiate the call: absent parent or child.
  • Determine how calls will be returned when a parent is unable to reach the child
  • Designate if and when the child can call the absent parent.
  • Determine if privacy for the child’s calls will be expected.

Parental Behaviors:

Consider outlining the Divorce Rules in this section. Any expectations the parents have of each other should be included in this section. Keep in mind that some of their expectations cannot be monitored without an involved parenting coordinator. Be sure to inquire if these expectations will also apply to future stepparents or significant others.

  • Determine if parents will commit to mature behavior in front of their child. If so, be specific.
  • Decide if parents want a moral clause regarding overnight guests.
  • Determine if parents want a travel expectation regarding significant others.
  • Discuss the option of significant others and other family members transporting the child/ren.

Safety Issues:

Ask parents to consider safety issues. For example, wearing helmets for certain activities, riding in the front seat of a car, riding ATVs, smoking around the children, internet safety programs, movie/games/videos/music ratings, and guns in the home.

Financial Responsibilities:

Generally, financial responsibilities of both parents will be determined through the legal system, particularly child support, childcare fees and medical costs. In many jurisdictions, there are written guidelines that help determine financial matters. In situations of joint physical custody it is not unusual for the parents to share all expenses related to child rearing. Child support may or may not be designated. Encourage parents to keep payments separate from any other payments. The checklist may or may not be necessary. If you are unsure on the local expectations regarding financial responsibilities, consult with other professionals.

  • Establish parental responsibility to purchase special attire, teacher gifts, yearbooks, and child’s car.
  • Clarify how and when the parents will exchange receipts and make these payments.
  • Explore areas that may be separate from child support. For instance, clothes and overnight camps.

Optional Concerns:

  • Decide how clothes will be handled and returned to the primary home. Or, decide if clothes will be provided in both homes.
  • Determine if the child will be permitted to move items between homes and identify these items.
  • Explore commitment to religious education.
  • Designate whether or not both parents will worship at the same time as the child and if so, clarify the arrangements.
  • Determine how items left behind by the child/ren will be transported to the child. Will the parent with the “forgotten” item be responsible to return the item and how?
  • Discuss the rules and responsibilities the parents want to support in both homes.
  • Decide if the parents may use corporal punishment.
  • Determine if parents want to include a provision for maximum distance between homes.
  • Discuss provisions for continued contact with former step siblings, stepparents and extended family members on both sides of the child/ren’s family.

Taken from The Psychotherapist as Parent Coordinator in High Conflict Divorce; Strategies and Techniques by Boyan and Termini

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