What is a Parenting Plan?

If you are going to be getting a divorce, annulment, or legal separation and you have any minor children with your spouse, a parenting plan is in your future.  A parenting plan is a document that will describe how you and your spouse will share the parenting responsibilities, as well as define who will be making certain decisions, and paying expenses, among other matters. Since most divorces are granted on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, the parenting plan is usually a product of an agreement between the parties.  If not, the plan can be written during a mediation.  If the parties are still unable to agree, a court can compose it’s own parenting plan after a trial.

Components of a parenting plan

Tennessee law requires that a parenting plan:

  • Contain a residential schedule that will designate which parent will have the child on specific days of the year, including holidays, birthdays, etc.
  • Identify when and where the parties will meet to exchange the child for visitation.
  • Allocate decision making power to one or both parents in the areas of the child’s education, health care, extracurricular activities, religious upbringing, and other areas if the parties desire.
  • Identify who will pay child support, as well as provide health and dental insurance.
  • Identify how the parents will pay or divide expenses such as medical co-pays, uncovered medical expenses, extracurricular expenses, etc.
  • Will be written in a way to minimize the children’s exposure to conflict between the parents
  • Provide for a dispute resolution process if a disagreement about the plan arises between the parties.

There are several other provisions that must be included, but these are some of the most important. One thing to remember is that even though the parties may come up with a parenting plan on their own, any plan (or modification to the plan) must be approved by the court.  In Tennessee the courts are charged with protecting the best interests of the children, and if the judge feels that the plan proposed by the parties doesn’t serve the kid’s interests, the judge can reject the plan and either require the parties to submit a new one, or substitute a plan written by the court.