A parenting plan is a contract that parents can enter into (or request the Court to create) in lieu of a typical custody and parenting time order. The purpose of a parenting plan is to mitigate the amount of conflict that can arise between parents when custody and parenting time is an issue. Unlike a typical custody and parenting time order, a parenting plan can reduce the polarizing effect that custody labels may have for parents and can set apart many details that go into parenting a child that are not usually contemplated in a custody and parenting time order.

What Does a Parenting Plan Include?

According to Minnesota Statute 518.1705 a parenting plan must include the following:

  1. A schedule of the time each parent spends with the child
  2. A designation of decision-making responsibilities regarding the child
  3. A method of dispute resolution

With a parenting plan, parents have the ability to agree to use alternative terminology regarding the custody of their children.  For example, some parents believe that saying one parent has sole physical custody makes it seem like that parent has an advantage over the other or “won” on the issue of custody.  A parenting plan can say that the parents are not going to use the label of physical custody and instead set apart the decisions the parents will make together and which parent will have the home designated as the primary residence for the child.  The parenting plan will contain what the custody label would be in the event that a custody label is necessary, but otherwise, there is no label.

A final judgment and decree must designate whether the parents have joint legal custody or joint physical custody or which parent has sole legal custody or sole physical custody, or both. This designation is solely for enforcement of the final judgment and decree and has no effect under the laws of this state, any other state, or another country that do not require this designation.

For example, if a parent moves with the child out of the state of Minnesota to California, the parent in California may need to inform the child’s school of the custodial arrangement.  In this scenario, if the parents in their parenting plan had no custody labels, but the parent in California needs to demonstrate to the school that the parent has the authority to enroll the child, receive information from the school, etc. then the parent has the label to do so.  The designation of custody under the parenting plan does not give the parent those rights under that designation, but rather, is used to enforce the judgment and decree.

Making a Parenting Plan that Works

So how do you make a parenting plan that “works?”  First, as listed above, the parenting plan needs to conform to the requirements of the statute.  From there, it is up to the parents entering into the parenting plan to decide what will work and what will not work.

The benefits and drawbacks of a parenting plan are in the details of a plan.  Parents can be extremely detailed in their parenting plan, but if they are too detailed, they might come to agreements that later are not beneficial to the child or plausible for the parents.

For example, say the parties agree that the cost of the child’s extracurricular activities will be shared equally between both parties. As the child grows up, the child may decide to play hockey and will be required to attend practice before and after school. This would severely cut into one of the parent’s parenting time and work schedule. In addition, it is extremely expensive even if it is shared by the parents equally.  Since there are details that effectively govern this issue, the only way that a party is going to be able to modify this issue is through a court order.

Parties need to be careful about entering into Parenting Plans, because the modification of decision-making authority is governed by the same high standard that is used to modify custody.

Avoiding Future Conflicts

A parenting plan that works is one that the parents spend a lot of time discussing. It works best when the parties agree to work together for the best interests of their child.  A parenting plan allows parents to make decisions about their child when they are represented by counsel and acting rationally, rather than in the heat of the moment.  When a majority of decisions about a child are made before any argument can ensue, sometimes it will prevent misunderstandings and arguments because the outcome is predetermined.

If you have any questions about parenting plans, one of our experienced child custody lawyers would be happy to speak with you. Give us a call for a free consultation at (612) 294-2200.