Regardless of the custody arrangement entered by a court, the court must, under Missouri law, prepare a rather detailed Parenting Plan.  We thought we would take a moment to explain why we have Parenting Plans and what they must contain.

If two parents receive joint legal custody and joint physical custody, and they seem very willing and capable of co-parenting without incident, why do they need a Parenting Plan designed by the court?  Should they not just make their own as it suits their needs?

First, even for the most cooperative parents, disagreements occur regarding who has physical custody on a given day.  A Parenting Plan removes many of these disagreements by allocating every day during a calendar year to one parent or the other.  Parents may agree to deviate from this schedule and make changes that better suit the needs of the parents or children or both, but when the parents disagree, the Parenting Plan resolves any question about who has what day.

Second, parents can create their own Parenting Plan without court direction.  Parents can reach an agreement out of court and design their own Parenting Plan, so long as the court approves it as in the best interests of the children.

Third, beyond scheduling physical custody, the Parenting Plan serves as a set of basic instructions for parental behavior.  In joint legal custody, parents must make decisions together regarding the health, education and welfare of the children.  The Parenting Plan gives specific guidance as to how parents accomplish such joint decisions and also provides a method for resolving disputes when parents do not agree.  In cases where one parent has sole legal custody, the sole legal custodian must still keep the other parent “in the loop” by making attempts to consult with the parent about key decisions and keeping the parent fully informed about the health, education and welfare of the child.  When parents do not get along, a Parenting Plan helps assure that both parents receive information from schools and doctors.  Also, the Parenting Plan sets clear rules about how parents should treat one another in the presence of the children and should make the children available for regular phone contact and included in school and extracurricular events.

With these ideas about the need for a Parenting Plan in mind, we can turn to the required elements of every Parenting Plan as set forth by Missouri statute:

(1) A specific written schedule detailing the custody, visitation and residential time for each child with each party including:

(a) Major holidays stating which holidays a party has each year;

(b) School holidays for school-age children;

(c) The child’s birthday, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day;

(d) Weekday and weekend schedules and for school-age children how the winter, spring, summer and other vacations from school will be spent;

(e) The times and places for transfer of the child between the parties in connection with the residential schedule;

(f) A plan for sharing transportation duties associated with the residential schedule;

(g) Appropriate times for telephone access;

(h) Suggested procedures for notifying the other party when a party requests a temporary variation from the residential schedule;

(i) Any suggested restrictions or limitations on access to a party and the reasons such restrictions are requested;

(2) A specific written plan regarding legal custody which details how the decision-making rights and responsibilities will be shared between the parties including the following:

(a) Educational decisions and methods of communicating information from the school to both parties;

(b) Medical, dental and health care decisions including how health care providers will be selected and a method of communicating medical conditions of the child and how emergency care will be handled;

(c) Extracurricular activities, including a method for determining which activities the child will participate in when those activities involve time during which each party is the custodian;

(d) Child care providers, including how such providers will be selected;

(e) Communication procedures including access to telephone numbers as appropriate;

(f) A dispute resolution procedure for those matters on which the parties disagree or in interpreting the parenting plan;

(g) If a party suggests no shared decision-making, a statement of the reasons for such a request;

(3) How the expenses of the child, including child care, educational and extraordinary expenses as defined in the child support guidelines established by the supreme court, will be paid including:

(a) The suggested amount of child support to be paid by each party;

(b) The party who will maintain or provide health insurance for the child and how the medical, dental, vision, psychological and other health care expenses of the child not paid by insurance will be paid by the parties;

(c) The payment of educational expenses, if any;

(d) The payment of extraordinary expenses of the child, if any;

(e) Child care expenses, if any;

(f) Transportation expenses, if any.

As you can see, a Parenting Plan is quite detailed on purpose – to cover every area that might cause confusion or conflict, and eliminate both so the parties can parent effectively and not have to return to court for clarification.

If you have questions about Parenting Plans, contact us – we can help.