Writing a parenting plan

If you're going through divorce or dissolution, here's how to suggest a parenting plan that meets your family's needs.

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If you have minor children, you will need to propose an arrangement to take care of them as part of your divorce or dissolution process. In order to do that, you will need to:

What paperwork do you need?

The way you file a parenting plan with the court will depend on the way you're ending your marriage:

  • If you're getting a dissolution, you will write up a parenting plan together with your spouse and file it with your marriage dissolution paperwork.
  • If you're getting a divorce, file a request for "temporary orders" to define what will happen with your child while the divorce is in process. If you and your spouse can both agree on a child custody arrangement that’s fair and in the best interest of your kids, that can make the end of your marriage easier on everyone. If you don’t agree with your spouse, they can file their own request for temporary orders and the court will decide.    
  • If you and your spouse can’t agree on custody and visitation issues, seriously consider getting a lawyer. Custody cases are often very complicated and a lawyer can help you navigate the process.

Start with your county's standard parenting time schedule

Each county’s court has created a standard parenting time schedule that shows when a child has time with each parent. Start by looking at your county’s standard parenting time schedule. If the standard works for you and your family, ask for that.

If it does not work for you, then it may be easier to create your parenting plan by making changes to the standard order instead of starting from nothing. The court is more likely to grant a request which is in line with its standard schedule.

Explain why the plan makes sense

If you are suggesting anything other than the standard parenting time schedule, it's not enough to simply detail what you would like to happen. Write out the reasons why your plan is fair and in the best interests of the child. 

If you're suggesting less parenting time than the standard schedule, explain why. For example, if one spouse does not have stable housing for the children. Or maybe there are safety issues. 

If you're suggesting more than the standard parenting time schedule or shared parenting, it's important to show that the reason you are getting divorced won’t cause a problem with this plan. You will also have to show that it makes practical sense for the child—for example, your spouse is only moving five miles away and not fifty.

Cover important questions for the court

The court has standard questions that they think through for each custody case. If you and your spouse disagree, or if you want a plan that's less typical, it's useful to address each of these questions in your plan. The important questions to cover are:  

  • Have the child’s wishes (if they are old enough) and relationships with parents, siblings and other family members been taken into account?
  • Will the plan disrupt the child’s school-life or involvement with their community?
  • Are the parents mentally and physically healthy? 
  • Does either parent or member of their household have a criminal past?
  • Is each parent committed to the plan, at least for now? 
  • Does either parent live outside of the state or have any plans to move?
  • How will the children be supported financially?

Write your plan carefully

It's important to be thoughtful when writing your plan. This is especially true if you don't think your spouse will agree. The time and care you put into writing it matters a lot to the court, which could work out in your favor. You’re more likely to get the court’s approval if you address all of the issues raised in the questions above.

What if you and your spouse disagree?

If you and your spouse submit different requests for custody and visitation through temporary orders, the court will decide between them. In a complex case, they might hold a hearing to get more information.  

The court will likely decide who the primary custodian will be. The court will then order you and your spouse to follow the court's standard parenting time schedule unless there's a major reason not to, like your child's safety is at risk. 

It's important that you follow the court’s directions, especially during the time it takes to finalize your divorce. Doing so might influence what the court decides in the end for you and your family.

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