Every Oregon divorce or custody case that includes minor children must include a parenting plan. Here are some things to keep in mind when you are developing your parenting plan:
General vs. Specific. Parenting plans can be as general or as specific as you want them to be. There are benefits of each type of plan. You can read more about this topic here. Generally speaking, the more effective you are as co-parents, the more general your parenting plan can be.
Flexibility. Parents have the option of adding as much flexibility as they want to their parenting arrangement as long as they both agree. You can think of your parenting plan as a default schedule, meaning that you can do whatever you want to do as long as you both agree; but if you don’t agree then you will stick with what is written in the plan. Be aware, however, that in order to permanently change the plan and make it enforceable, you need to write up a new parenting plan and submit it to the court for a judge to sign. (The plan has to be submitted using something called a Supplemental Judgment.)
Your parenting plan can specify that you intend it to be flexible, but it doesn’t have to. You can be as flexible as you want as co-parents as long as you both agree.
The Components of a Parenting Plan. Parenting plans need to include a general schedule, holiday schedule and vacation schedule.
General Schedule. The general schedule is the normal routine of who will have the children when. Basically, this is the day in, day out description of who has which days. There will be a future article on different general schedules that are commonly used.
Holidays. You can include as many or as few holidays as you want to. Sometimes parents do not include any holidays and instead include a provision that says that they will figure it out ‘as-needed.’ Although this works fine for some people, it is generally not recommended and can give rise to challenges in the future. If your parenting plan says that you are going to figure it out, and you can’t, then what? For this reason, people usually include at least some level of detail about holidays. At a minimum, people usually address Thanksgiving and Christmas, because even if you don’t observe these holidays, you probably have family members who do and they will want to know which holidays to expect the children.
Vacations. Parenting plans typically address winter, spring and summer vacations. Sometimes different school districts will have a fall break or a full week at Thanksgiving which may also need to be addressed. As with holidays, people sometimes include a “we’ll figure it out provision,” although the same caution as mentioned above applies.
Winter Break. The two most common winter break provisions are:
- Regular Schedule. You will use your regular schedule, subject to holiday parenting time for each parent.
- Split in Half. One parent will have the first half of the break in odd years and the other parent will have the other half of the break. In even years, the they will alternate who has the first half. The halfway point can either be the actual midpoint based on the school calendar, or it can be an agreed-upon day that you use every year (e.g., you always split the break on Dec. 26th). This tends to work best for parenting plans where one or both parents usually travel on the break. It also works well in plans where one parent may have less parenting time in the regular schedule so this is an opportunity to have more parenting time.
- Note: Regardless of which plan you pick, you need to figure out how holidays will factor in because holidays take precedent over vacations.
Spring Break. The three most common spring break provisions are:
- Regular Schedule. You will use your regular schedule without treating spring break any different. Parents with very young children often choose this option until their children reach school age.
- Every Other Year. One of you will have the full break in odd years and the other will have the full break in even years. This tends to work best for plans where it is important to one or both parents to be able to travel with the children for the break. Childcare is also a consideration when determining how to handle spring break.
- Split in Half. One of you will have the first weekend of the break until an agreed upon time on Wednesday; the other parent will have from Wednesday through the weekend. This works best for parenting plans where each parent has a full, alternating weekend. It’s also a good option for parents who would each like to have some extended time with the children but maybe cannot take a whole week of vacation.
Summer. By far, most people use their regular schedule during the summer and add additional parenting time. Occasionally people will use a different schedule during the summer than they do for the school year.
- Regular Schedule Plus Additional Time. Most parents use their regular schedule in the summer but add 1 or 2 weeks of additional parenting time for each of them so that they can have the children for an extended period of time. Sometimes when a parent has less parenting time during the school year, they may have up to 3 or 4 extra weeks during the summer.
- Different Schedule. People do not typically use a different summer schedule (although you certainly can). Using a different schedule most often comes up in situations where one parent may have less parenting time during the school year and the summer is an opportunity for increased time. Another situation where this arises is when parents have a parenting plan that has lots of exchanges and they want to simplify things in the summer. So if you have a 2-2-3 plan, for example, you may try a week on/week off plan in the summer which is the same amount of time, just with less exchanges.
Other Provisions. You can include as many, or as few, “other” provisions as you want to. For example, you may want to include a provision about agreed-upon childcare providers. Additionally, most parenting plans include some fairly generic provisions that usually apply in most situations. For example, most parenting plans will include a provision that mediation will be used to resolve parenting disputes unless there is an emergency.
This article is intended to give you an overview of the basics of parenting plans as well as a description of how parents commonly handle various topics. With that said, the best parenting plan is the one that makes sense for your family. Feel free to use the ideas that make sense for your family and disregard the ones that don’t. You can also take comfort in the fact that parenting plans are modifiable, which means that if you feel like your plan can could use some improvement, there is a way to do that.