Parenting plan

For decisions regarding procreation, see family planning.

A parenting plan is a child custody plan included in a marital separation agreement or final decree of divorce. In the United States of America, many state courts require that separating or divorcing couples who have children include a parenting plan among the terms of their separation agreement and/or their eventual divorce decree. Depending upon the jurisdiction, separated parents may also voluntarily agree upon a parenting plan without ever going to court.

Especially when a separation is acrimonious to begin with, specific agreements about who will discharge these responsibilities and when and how they are to be discharged can reduce the need for litigation. Avoiding litigation spares parties not only the financial and emotional costs of litigation but the uncertainty of how favorable or unfavorable a court's after-the-fact decision will be. Moreover, the agreement itself can authorize the employment of dispute-resolution methods, such as arbitration and mediation, that are less costly than litigation.

A well-drafted parenting plan addresses both the custodial rights and responsibilities of a separating parental couple and the logistical and other procedures for carrying out its substantive requirements. Topics addressed in a parenting plan frequently include but are not limited to:

  • Transferring the child from one parent to the other: schedule, method, and location
  • Departures from the typical custody schedule (e.g., overnight stays with the other parent or with other relatives during a given parent's normal custody time)
  • Restrictions, as needed, on places visited and/or persons associated with while the child is present
  • Authority over physical and mental health-care decisions; access to health records
  • Authority to change the place at which a child resides while in the physical custody of a given parent
  • Authority over educational decisions such as where the child attends school; access to educational records
  • Authority to take the child on travel, especially travel outside the geographic jurisdiction of the court adjudicating the separation or divorce
  • Authority to claim the child as a dependent for income-tax purposes
  • Provision for basic needs
  • Payment for education
  • Payment of health-insurance premiums and other medical expenses
  • Inclusion of the other parent and/or the child in a given parent's estate planning, including both the probate process (disposition of assets by will) and procedures outside of probate (payout of life-insurance policies, distribution of survivor benefits, etc.)
  • Obligation to keep the other parent apprised of contact information both of a given parent and of the child while with that parent
  • Right of the other parent to information about circumstances and events affecting the child's well-being

In some cases, parenting plans are established through the combined effect of multiple agreements each addressing a different subject; for example, one agreement may address physical custody while another addresses financial support.

Some jurisdictions have guidelines, either default rules (i.e., rules that apply only in the absence of provisions to the contrary) or hard-and-fast requirements to which all agreements must adhere, addressing some of the above topics. Moreover, courts in some communities offer proposed templates whose terms take into account community-specific factors such as availability of day-care services, school-bus routes and schedules, and schedules of school and community athletics and other activities. The Fair Parenting Project[1] has taken initiative in the development of such proposals.

A parenting plan agreed upon by the parties in an out-of-court setting is often termed "stipulated" or "on consent." A judge who finds a stipulated parenting plan to be consistent with the child's best interest can often approve the plan without requiring the parties or the child to be present in court, sparing the parents inconvenience and the child the emotional stress of dealing with authority figures in an unfamiliar setting.

United States

Parenting plans are usually initiated as part of a divorce decree. Divorced parents whose child custody is governed by a parenting plan can request that a court amend the plan or replace it with a new one. In jurisdictions whose laws permit the practice, some plans permit the parties to amend certain provisions, such as those specifying where a parent will live during that parent's time with the child, by agreement without court approval.

A court reviewing a petition for amendment or replacement of a parenting plan will employ the "child's best interest" standard in light of circumstances or changes in circumstances such as a parent's relocation, the presence or absence of child abuse in one or both parents' households, and health problems of a parent or the child. Many states allow children, especially those above a given age threshold (usually about 13 years), to testify about their own preferences as to custody and parenting and their opinions on any proposed plan or amendment. The weight assigned by the court to a child's testimony will vary with factors such as the child's intellectual and psychological maturity, for which the child's age is often used as a proxy; the child's level of insight into his or her situation; and the credibility of the child's testimony as affected by factors ranging from the child's level of honesty to any undue influence on the child by either or both parents.

Most states require that court-ordered parenting plans set forth the minimum amount of parenting time and access to which a noncustodial parent is entitled.[2][3][4][5][6] In these states, an agreement's failure to specify the non-custodial parent's minimum level of access can constitute grounds for appeal of the adjudicating court's approval of the plan. In cases where separated or divorced parents live near each other, most U.S. states' family courts follow a default rule of granting the non-custodial parent the right of visitation on every second weekend and some holidays. Where parents live farther apart, some states allow the combination of these visits into longer stretches of time to reduce traveling.[7][8][9][10]

A journal of the American Psychological Association published an article, endorsed by 110 researchers and practitioners including prominent international authorities on early child development and divorce, featuring recommendations for parenting plans for children under four years of age.[11]

Great Britain

In England and Wales the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, a non-departmental public body, produces a booklet Parenting Plans Putting your children first: a guide for separating parents. [12]


Parenting Plans in Australia[13] are a written agreement between two parents and are made without the assistance or endorsement of a court, but can be made with the assistance of a mediator. They are non-binding and not legally enforceable and so cannot be contravened. A parenting plan can be written in such a way that it can submitted to a court for endorsement, but once endorsed it becomes a consent order. There is no such thing as a "standard" parenting plan as each one is unique, but there are example parenting plans available.[14]

Although a parenting plan isn't legally enforceable, if legal action is initiated after a parenting plan has been agreed the court will give careful consideration and considerable weight to the agreed plan as it shows the intent of each parent at the time of signing.

Parenting plans can include as many or as few considerations about the child(ren) as both parents agree to, however child support payments are not generally included as payable child support is calculated by the Australian Government Child Support Agency (CSA).[15]

The Non-Custodial Parents Party (Equal Parenting) [16] was formed in Australia in 1998.

The party’s web-site states that the core policies centre on the issue of family law and child support reform. This is by emphasising legislative changes in order to enshrine a child's natural rights to a meaningful relationship with both parents, and legal and procedural changes to ensure that the Child Support system is fair, equitable and aimed at fulfilling its primarily goal, that being to support the child/ren.

The Non-Custodial Parents Party (Equal Parenting) is currently registered as a political party with the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC).[17]


Upon the introduction of the joint-custody in the national legislation in Romania, a standard parenting plan was released with the public. This is re-using Florida parenting plan and was created by the Romanian Association for Joint-Custody.[18][19] The plan was adapted to the specific of Romania and it is now being used by the mediators across the county.[20]


The parental plan is infrequently used in Spain as well.[21]

Belgium & the Netherlands

The parental plan is introduced in the legislation in the Netherlands [22] and there is a law project in Belgium [23] to introduce it is, as well.


  2. "Oregon 107.102 Parenting plan".
  3. "Tennessee, Minimum parenting plan requirements" (PDF).
  4. "Georgia parenting plan" (PDF).
  5. "Florida Parenting Plan" (PDF).
  6. "California Parenting Plans".
  7. "Florida Approved Parenting Plans".
  10. "New York Parenting Plan sample" (PDF).
  11. Warshak, R. A., with the endorsement of 110 researchers and practitioners. (2014). Social Science and Parenting Plans for Young Children: A Consensus Report. Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 20, (1), 46-67.
  12. CAFCASS (2006). "Parenting Plans: Putting your children first: a guide for separating parents" (pdf). Retrieved 2008-09-14.
  13. "Parenting Plans in Australia". 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
  14. "Example Parenting Plan" (pdf). 2011. Retrieved 2011-08-31.
  15. "Australian Government Child Support Agency".
  16. Non-Custodial Parents Party (Equal Parenting). Home Page. Date accessed 28 March 2013.
  17. Australian Electoral Commission’s current Index of Registered Political Parties. Date accessed 28 March 2013
  18. A series of articles on this were published here
  19. See also the article published on the top juridical web side in Romania, here
  20. The Romania parenting plan can be accessed here
  21. Please see a translated version of the Spanish parental plan here
  22. See the Dutch Civil Code - Book 1, Law of PErson and Family Law, Title 1.14 Authority over children

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