Bram Fridhandler, Ph.D.

(415) 409-9800

Parenting Plans

What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a written plan agreed on by separating or divorced parents for how to handle parenting of their children.  There can be a temporary plan to handle things at the time of a separation and a "permanent" plan later.  (Parenting plans are never truly permanent, because they need to change as the children get older.) 
Why have one?
Stability and predictability are very important for the children when so much is changing.  Making decisions as each issue comes up is more pressured and stressful than planning in advance.  In all but the friendliest divorces, an ad hoc approach escalates conflict.  This makes for poorer decisions and is bad for parents and children.
What issues should the plan address? 
Some issues are:
  • What days of the week will the children be in each house?
  • Where will the children be on holidays and during the summer?
  • How will school issues and homework be handled?
  • How will medical care be handled? 
  • Is there a commitment by both parents not to move out of the area?  If not, how will this be handled if it comes up?
  • How will the plan be changed as the children get older and have different needs? 
What makes for a good parenting plan?
A good plan is one that
  • is responsive to the wishes and abilities of both parents
  • is responsive to the feelings and needs of the children
  • is firm enough to provide stability and reduce conflict
  • is flexible enough to accommodate unexpected events and the children's development
How do parenting plans get developed?
Like other aspects of a divorce agreement, parents can work them out with each other or they can get help from professionals, such as family law attorneys or therapists with background in divorce.  If parents do this on their own, they should use one or more of resources like those listed below to help them remember the many things that need to be decided. 


Books and Pamphlets

Mom's House, Dad's House, by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D.
Has lots of detail about what to include, including some relevant legal information.  Lots of suggestions for how to proceed, including how to think through your own readiness for tackling different aspects of the job.  Written by a child-savvy psychologist practicing in San Francisco and Marin County who has been very active in the divorce professional community. 
The amount of detail here can make the book challenging.  There are other resources that keep it simpler and where specific information is easier to find.  But there may not be another resource with as much information or as many good, sensitive suggestions. 
Building a Parenting Agreement That Works, by Mimi Lyster
Very detailed and systematic.  Published by Nolo Press.  Designed to walk parents through the process step-by-step, covering every issue; for this purpose, it's the best available.  Good for parents experiencing a significant amount of conflict but who can talk over the issues, because it's a great aid for planning all the issues out in advance. 
Nolo's Essential Guide to Divorce, by Emily Doskow
Covers everything about divorce, including a concise discussion of parenting plans.  Published by Nolo Press.   
"Making Your Parenting Plan Work" and "A Guide For Joint Custody and Shared Parenting" (pamphlets), by the Assoc. of Family and Conciliation Courts
Excellent brief presentations of the essential issues, with guidance from the best research on what arrangements are best for children.  Discuss needs of children according to their age, all the way from infancy through 18.  Too brief to be sufficient for most parents.
To purchase these and other useful pamphlets for separated and divorced parents from AFCC, click here

Web Resources

Model Parenting Time Plans, by Arizona Family Court
A sensitive, detailed tool for designing the "time share" part of a parenting plan, that is, when the children will be in each house.  Incorporates research on children's needs at different ages, and has sample plans clearly laid out on calendars.  Includes blank calendars for parents to fill in.  Although there are a few things that are directed to parents in Arizona, most of it works for parents anywhere. 
To download (in pdf or html format), click here
Kids' Turn
A great organization providing help to parents and children going through divorce.  They provide classes for children and parents.  The "Parents" link on the home page takes you to pages that have links for recommended websites and books, with thumbnail reviews. 
For Kids' Turn home page, click here


Shared Ground
Software for spelling out the "time share" schedule and creating detailed calendars showing where the children are schedule to be every day.  Once you enter the basic schedule and how you want to handle holidays, vacations, and birthdays, it fills in calendars for years to come.  It could be a time-saver for computer-savvy parents but is not easy to use. 
For information from the publisher, click here