How to Draft a Missouri Parenting Plan

One of the most difficult aspects of any divorce or child custody proceeding involves drafting a parenting plan that meets the best interests of the children and satisfies the parenting skills and wishes of the parents. 

We generally think of parenting plans in terms of distribution of time – who gets the child when and for how long. But even in a situation where parents share equal periods of custody time, the manner of arranging that time can vary significantly, with each variation offering differing advantages and disadvantages based on the needs of the particular child and the structure of the family.

The more a family can assess these different options and how workable they would be for parent and child, the better the family will arrive at an appropriate parenting plan.

Some parents who go through a custody proceeding will complain that the parenting plan seems too “cookie cutter” – a one-size-fits-all solution that gives the parents too little input into the process.

But parents have the power to eliminate the “cookie cutter” problem by working together, through their attorneys, to craft a parenting plan that meets each parent’s circumstances and preferences, but above all the best interests of the child.

Parents can draft a plan outside of court or can request the court decide about child custody for them if they are unable to come to an agreement.  Drafting a parenting plan together is the best way for parents to ensure they have a custody arrangement that makes sense for their family and that is in the best interests of their children. That’s because parents know better than a judge how they can divide up time to maintain consistent routines and strong family relationships for a child.

Creating a parenting plan can be a challenge, though. Below are some suggestions on how to do it successfully.

What should a parenting plan include?

A parenting plan should address all the legal issues that are relevant to sharing custody of a child. This can include:

How legal custody is arranged.  Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions with respect to the health, education, and welfare of the child.  Legal custody may be joint or sole. In joint legal custody, both parents participate equally in the decision-making process and collectively resolve issues of health, education, and welfare. Joint legal custody presumes that the parents can work together to act in the best interest of the child. When parents cannot work together to make decisions, the court will award one parent sole legal custody. While a sole legal custody award gives one parent all the authority, it still usually requires that parent to consult with the other parent wherever possible.

How physical custody is shared.  Physical custody refers to the periods of time wherein a parent has actual temporary custody of the child.  Physical custody may also be joint or sole. In joint physical custody, both parents have significant though not necessarily equal periods of time with the child. In sole physical custody, one parent has the vast majority of physical time with the child, and the other parent has reasonable periods of visitation.

Transportation arrangements. Your plan should specify how a child will be transported from one parent’s house to another.

Communication rules: You should address how parents will communicate with each other and also how and when the child can communicate with the other parent when at one parent’s home.

Contact with other family and friends. If there are certain people that children shouldn’t be around, this needs to be addressed in a parenting plan.

Change requests. The plan should provide a method for parents to ask each other for schedule changes and limitations on when this can occur.

Amendments and modifications. Custody arrangements inevitably must be modified. You should provide details in your parenting plan about how this will occur.  Your plan may also address other issues specific to your family.  The key is to address in advance all the issues likely to be raised while you are co-parenting.

How Do I Create a Parenting Plan?

Creating a successful parenting plan can be complicated. Here are some practical steps that you should take.

Hire an Attorney and Determine If You Need Additional Help

Both parents should be represented by a family law attorney who can help them negotiate a plan that protects their rights. Parents who fear they may struggle to come to an agreement may also wish to find a mediator to help them through the process of creating a parenting plan by facilitating open and effective communication and negotiation.

Focus on Your Child’s Best Interests

The purpose of a parenting plan is to make sure your child is cared for in the best way possible.  Think about what your child’s routines are, how they interact with each parent, and the ability of each parent to provide them with the time, attention, and care required for the child to thrive.

Decide How Legal Custody Will Be Shared

Next, you need to discuss whether you will share joint legal custody and decision-making authority.  This is the right to make big decisions.  Often, parents choose to share legal custody so they both can continue playing a role in shaping their children’s lives. But if one parent will be providing most of the childcare, it may make sense for that parent to have sole legal custody so they don’t constantly have to consult the non-custodial parent before making decisions.

Develop a Parenting Schedule 

The schedule for how physical custody will be shared is a key part of the parenting plan. There are a few options that are the most common including:

Week to Week: The child spends one week with a parent, and then switches to the other parent the next week.

Weekend visits: The child stays with one parent during the school week and spends time with the other parent every weekend or every other weekend with one evening visit during the week.

5/2 rotation: The child spends two days with one parent, then two with the other, then five with the first parent, and then five with the other. You could also do a 2-2-3 or a 3-4-4 – 3 rotation.

Be very specific about how your schedule will work. For example, if one parent has weekend visits, don’t just say “every other weekend” in your plan. Instead, make sure the plan specifies the day and time when the weekend begins and ends so the custody arrangement is clear to everyone.

Decide Holidays and Special Occasions 

You also need to address how the child’s time will be shared on major holidays. This can include Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, and any other days that are important in your family and that may require a deviation from the normal parenting schedule. Be sure to note that holiday parenting time takes precedence over regular scheduled time.

Craft a Vacation Policy During a Child’s School Summer Break

Many parenting plans allot each parent a number of weeks of uninterrupted vacation time with the child during the child’s summer vacation break. Consider whether travel is allowable, how far in advance the plans must be made, and remember that vacation time takes precedence over regularly scheduled parenting time.

Consider Other Issues You Missed

You need to address a variety of logistical issues in your plan including: (a) When and how the child will move between households; (b) who is responsible for transportation (and if long-distance travel costs are involved, (c) Who will pay for the repeated costs for clothing; (f) How you will communicate with each other and how the child will communicate with the other parent when not together. How you will modify the plan as needed?

Should you need the assistance of an experienced divorce and child custody attorney in Creve Coeur and O’Fallon or have questions about your divorce or child custody situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those questions with you.

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