Anyone experiencing a divorce or separation involving a child/children will benefit from creating a parenting plan. A parenting plan is an agreement negotiated by the parents of the child/children and is overseen by the court system to ensure the best interests and needs of the child/children are being addressed.

A parenting plan may be different for each child and may require changes over time, it is, however, a legal document and should be carefully followed to avoid any legal repercussions or forced changes through noncompliance. A solid parenting plan avoids excessive litigation time and expense while reducing stress and anxiety on both the parents and the child/children when it comes to making urgent and major life decisions.

A good parenting plan will be comprehensive and provide solid guidelines on how to ensure the child/children will receive the best care even when long distance and co-parenting is involved. Parenting plans can be challenged or changed by a parent through litigation.

What should be included in a parenting plan?

An essential part of a parenting plan includes who is assigned legal rights of the child/children and visitation or custody arrangements. Another important component is a plan of communication between the parents regarding the child/children; when and how often communication should take place.

A plan should also outline the roles of the parents when managing health issues including medical decisions, medical emergencies, and health insurance. Parenting plans should not only focus on health issues regarding the child/children but also what should happen should a parent encounter a health situation or emergency. Parents may include directives on where the child can reside or move to, enroll in education, where and how often the can travel and how to properly claim dependents on tax returns. Parents may also include information regarding what financial assets can be used for and how expenses related to the child/children are settled.

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Who is involved in a parenting plan?

Most court systems in the United States required a parenting plan as a part of a separation or divorce decree. States have in place guidelines that ensure that a parenting plan is both comprehensive, is fare and feasible for the parents to administer, and ensures the best care for the child/children long term.

When a divorce is emotionally charged it may be helpful to bring in an arbitrator (can be a neutral family member or court appointed) to help find common ground and to keep the parties involved focused on the welfare of the child/children. A counselor or psychologist can also be employed to oversee and discuss any additional challenges or needs that may benefit the child/children’s physical, mental or emotional needs when going through a separation or divorce.

Changing a parenting plan

There are times when a parenting plan needs to be amended and a parenting plan should be reviewed regularly for changes that may benefit the child/children. The onset of a short or long-term illness of a parent or child or the diagnosis of a terminal illness will impact a parenting plan.

If a parent needs to relocate for a new job, experiences a job loss or significant change in income that affects their ability to meet the financial obligations of the parenting plan. Should a child/children experience social, educational, physical, mental or emotional challenges that require intervention, re-enrollment, or relocation parents may need to revise the plan. If a parent remarries, has criminal allegations pending or struggles with addiction the welfare of the child may be called into question and the parenting plan altered.

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