Overview

Parenting Plans

​One of the most difficult challenges facing parents at the time of separation is deciding how they will divide responsibility for and time with their children. Parents sometimes fear that loss of their adult relationship will also mean loss of their parent-child relationship. They are also concerned about the potential negative impact of their separation on their children’s healthy development. Before designing a plan for your family, you should consider your unique situation. Raising children is difficult for all parents. When parents live in separate homes the challenges are greater because relationships are more complicated. Sometimes one parent disagrees about how much time a child should spend with the other. If you are unable to reach an agreement on your Parenting Plan, you may want to seek the assistance of a Mediator  in negotiating a Parenting Plan . Even if you are certain that you can work things out as they occur, having a detailed plan to fall back on is the best way to guard against conflict in the future. Information divided into age groupings based upon developmental norms that may be helpful in developing a parenting plan is also available at Planning for Parenting Time – Arizona’s Guide for Parents Living Apart  and Basic Parenting Plan Guide .

NOTICE TO READERS: These considerations do not provide legal opinions or legal advice and are not intended to serve as a substitute for the advice of licensed, legal professionals. Neither the Idaho Supreme Court, the Administrative Office of the Courts, nor the authors are engaged in rendering legal or other professional services through this guide. The Idaho Supreme Court, the Administrative Office of the Courts and the authors do not warrant that the information herein is complete or accurate and do not assume and hereby disclaim any liability to any person for any loss or damage caused by errors, inaccuracies, or omissions that may appear in this guide. Laws and interpretations of laws change frequently, and research may be ongoing and updated. The material contained in these pages may carry with it important legal consequences. Users of this material are solely responsible for determining the applicability of any information contained in this guide to their situation and are strongly encouraged to seek professional legal and other expert assistance in resolving their parenting issues. These parenting time considerations are intended to provide helpful ideas in making decisions about parenting time. A parenting plan is a document that states when the children will be with each parent (parenting time or physical custody) and how major decisions will be made (legal custody). These materials contain information for crafting developmentally sensitive parenting plans for parents to use in reaching agreements or presenting proposals to the court. Attorneys, mental health professionals, mediators, and judges may also find the parenting time plans useful in resolving family court disputes. Parents are encouraged to read this material and seek additional information and advice in order to make the best decisions for their children. This guide will help parents reduce conflict and reach agreements more easily These considerations are a tool for you to use to design a parenting plan that will work best for you and your children. Remember, these considerations:

  • Are tools for parents;
  • Are NOT “the law”;
  • DO NOT prohibit or limit parents or judges from creating parenting plans that differ from the sample plans presented here;
  • DO NOT mandate minimum or maximum amount of parenting time for either parent;
  • MAY NOT be helpful in all circumstances.
Things to Think About

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Parenting Plan: Residence

  • Do you believe your children should live primarily with you or with the other parent? If the children were to live with you, what efforts would you make to ensure that they spend time with and have a meaningful relationship with the other parent? If your children were to live primarily with the other parent, what efforts would you expect the other parent to make to ensure that your children spend time and have a meaningful relationship with you?
  • Assuming the children were to live with the other parent, when should they spend time with you? Weekends? Weeknights? Summer? Other?
  • What are your thoughts regarding the amount of time your children spend on the telephone with the other parent when they are with you? Would you like a set time for the calls or can they be spontaneous? Should the residential parent agree not to interfere with or listen in on these calls?
  • What restrictions or agreements should the two of you make, if any, about what happens if one of you moves from the area?
  • If you are separated by distance, whose responsibility is it to pay for the children to travel?

Parenting Plan: Extracurricular Activities

  • Are there particular sports or activities that are important to each of your children? Related to each activity, is one or the other of you more oriented toward that sport/activity than the other?
  • How will you communicate with each other about your children’s activities?
  • Do you believe that the number of activities in which your children participate should be limited?
  • Are you comfortable with both parents attending activities? If not, how will you work out who attends when?

Parenting Plan: Spiritual Life

  • What kind of spiritual involvement do you want your children to have? What level of attendance in church, synagogue, or mosque is important to you?
  • Are there activities during the week in which you want your children to be involved?

Parenting Plan: Medical and Dental Care

  • What health insurance arrangements should be made for your children?
  • How will you pay for health expenses not covered by insurance?
  • How will you select medical and dental providers?
  • Do you want both parents to have access to medical reports, advance notice of examinations, notification of emergency care and the right to seek independent visits with care providers?

Parenting Plan: Financial Issues

  • How will the two of you share the costs of supporting your children?
  • Which of you will claim which children as tax deductions?

Parenting Plan: Holidays

  • What special arrangements would you like for holidays? Make a list of the holidays that are important for you to share with your children?
  • How would you like to handle your children’s birthdays? Your birthday?
  • How do you propose handling the holidays that both of you want?

Parenting Plan: School

  • Do you believe that your children should remain in their current school system?
  • Should both parents have access to grade reports, notice of school events, extracurricular events, and visits with teachers?

Parenting Plan: Miscellaneous Issues

  • How would you prefer the other parent contact you? Telephone at work? Telephone at home? Mail? E-mail? Fax? A third party? Other?
  • What restrictions would you like each other to follow in communicating with the children about the marriage or the other parent? Will you agree not to criticize the other to the children? Should you agree not to use the children to deliver messages or information to or from the other parent? Do you want to agree not to discuss divorce issues or money issues with your children? What other understandings or arrangements would you like to have with each other?

Considerations for Visitation

Considerations for Visitation When Parents Live Close – Less Than 30 Miles

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In General

  • What is fair and equal for the parents is not necessarily what is best for the child. While children benefit from their involvement with two competent parents, the aim of a parenting plan should not be equal time for parents, but stability for children.
  • For young children under age three, the most important thing is to nurture and preserve their primary attachment. Attachment does not signify who loves the child more or who the child loves most. It describes the infants’ instinctual drive for closeness to a primary caregiver for safety and security. In infants, physical separation from their primary caregiver can cause anxiety and anger, followed by sadness and despair.
  • A child with a healthy primary attachment can develop multiple attachments. A child without a healthy primary attachment will struggle to attain any healthy attachments.
  • A 50/50 arrangement should only be considered when there is no or low parental conflict, high communication between the parents, parents consistently demonstrate a willingness and ability to cooperatively work together, and both parents live close in proximity, providing equal access to the same school, peers and activities.
  • Research has shown that the impact of parental conflict is the single most negative factor in a healthy outcome for children. Children who are exposed to parental hostility are at high risk for later emotional disturbance. They are more likely to have problems in school, be more sexually active, more aggressive, anxious, depressed, withdrawn, and more likely to abuse drugs and to participate in delinquent acts than their peers.
  • The aim of a workable parenting plan is to build healthy relationships between the parents and the child. Moving too quickly into lengthy visits could have an opposite, potentially disruptive, effect on the relationship-building process.
  • When parents are in conflict, parents or courts may need to consider a neutral transition plan (at daycare, school or professionally supervised) so the child is protected from the distress parental conflict can cause.
  • Parents must consider their children’s individual needs when they develop shared parenting plans. Children differ in how they cope and adjust to their parents’ separation.
  • If there is more than one child, a different schedule for each child may be considered. A schedule that works well for an eight year old, may not work for a teenager. The schedule should also allow all children to be together at certain times, as well.
  • When a parent has not been an active parent prior to separation, the initial parenting plan should allow that parent enough time to develop a positive relationship with the child, without creating anxiety for the child. As the parent-child bond strengthens, changes can be made to the plan.
  • Parents who have been absent for a length of time (perhaps in the military or due to job requirements) need to build trust gradually with their children, so their children have an opportunity to get to know them.

Birth to One Year

  • Infants should reside with the person who has been the primary source of nurturing.
  • Overnights are not generally considered. However, some experts cautiously recommend overnights when both parents significantly participated in all aspects of the child care prior to the separation. Even when this criterion is met, overnights are minimal, one per week.
  • When the child develops a healthy primary attachment, the child can attach to others. Visits can be most of the day from the beginning if the caregiver is attuned and consistently meets the child’s needs. Separation of more than two days from the primary attachment figure may interfere with that attachment. Parents are not interchangeable.
  • It is important to maintain an infant’s basic sleep, feeding and waking cycle. Visits should take into consideration the child’s schedule for feeding, playing, bathing, and putting the infant to sleep.
  • Infants are especially vulnerable to conflict and need smooth routines that shield them from the emotional upset of conflicting parents.
  • As bonding and the relationship to the non-residential parent strengthens, the longer the contact can be.

Some ideas for planning for an infant less than 12 months old, depending on parents’ schedules and participation in child care prior to separation are:

  • Three periods of 3‐5 hours spaced throughout each week
  • Two periods of 4‐6 hours spaced throughout each week
  • Two 3‐5 hour periods and one 8‐hour period spaced throughout each week
  • Two periods of 3‐6 hours and 1 overnight each week

One to Three Years

  • Toddlers up to 21⁄2 years should reside with the parent who has been the primary source of nurturing.
  • Overnights still are not generally recommended. However, experts are cautious in recommending overnights when both parents had significantly participated in all aspects of the child care prior to the separation. Even when this criterion is met, overnights are minimal.
  • Toddlers need a fairly rigid schedule to provide them with predictability. A parenting schedule that allows toddlers frequent contact (3-5 times each week) with both parents is best, when two competent parents can keep their conflict low or minimize their interactions to protect the children from being exposed to their conflict.
  • Frequent contact is not recommended when there is a high degree of conflict between parents, except when children can transition between homes without parent-to-parent contact (neutral transition places, i.e. daycare).
  • If contact is regular and frequent, the child can tolerate most of a day.
  • If contact is not frequent, shorter times (1-3 hours) should be considered, to prevent infant distress due to separation from their primary caregiver. More time can be added as the child and the bond develops.
  • By the time a child reaches three, they have a better memory. A child can go for longer periods of time without seeing a parent.
  • Many three year olds can tolerate up to two non-consecutive overnights a week. Weekends or longer time periods during the summer can be difficult.

Three to Five Years

  • Three to five year olds are attached to their regular caregivers and separation from them may cause them to be fearful, uncomfortable, or anxious. They may have trouble moving between the parent’s homes. Consistent, sensitive responses may help your child.
  • If one parent was minimally involved in the child’s daily routine, a few days each week including a full weekend day will allow the relationship to develop. As the child becomes more comfortable moving between two homes, additional time and one or two overnights may be added.
  • If a child is in daycare during the week, consider splitting each weekend so the child has one full stay-at-home day and an overnight with each parent every week.
  • An every other weekend schedule with weekly midweek contact could work for the older child in this age group.

Six to Eight Years

  • For children this age a regular routine is important.
  • The parenting schedule should provide the child with opportunities to maintain contact with friends and participate in after-school activities.
  • Many children still require a home base while being with their other parent from one to three days a week.
  • Multiple overnights are usually okay.
  • A full week at each parent’s home could be phased in by age eight, for families with low conflict, effective communication and close proximity.

At this age, most children have difficulty with a 50/50 arrangement, going back and forth between homes and attending school from two homes. A 60/40 arrangement may be better, provided that the conflict between the parents is low, and both parents live close in proximity, allowing access to the same schools, peers and activities.

Nine to Twelve Years

  • While children benefit from the involvement of two competent parents, many children desire one home base with specific evenings, weekends, and activities at the other home.
  • Some children do well with equal contact in each home. A 50/50 arrangement should only be considered when there is low conflict, parents have been able to successfully work together, and both parents live close in proximity, providing equal access to the same school, peers and activities.
  • Often children prefer a home base. Many children this age report that it is too confusing and burdensome to pack up and shift homes weekly. Many report losing a sense of belonging, losing a sense of feeling personally anchored.
  • The schedule should be regular and predictable. It should minimize interference with peer relationships, school, and after-school activities.
  • At this age, children need more flexibility to accommodate their extra-curricular activities and their increasing social lives.

Thirteen to Seventeen Years

  • Teens are capable of forming an opinion about where and with whom they want to live. This opinion should be considered, but not necessarily followed.
  • Teens need some say in planning the schedule. Sports, extra-curricular activities, jobs and their social lives need to be considered.
  • Teens typically prefer to spend their time with their peers. They do not need contact of long duration with either parent. Positive contact once or twice each week for an hour or more, dinner or an activity for example, may be enough to maintain a close parent/child relationship. When parents focus on meeting the needs of their teen and keeping the time spent together positive their relationship will gather strength. When parents focus on getting their ‘fair or equal share” of time with their child, both the child and the parent/child relationship suffers.
  • Some teens need one home base with regular and predictable evenings, weekends, and activities at the other home. Some teens prefer a more equal basis with each parent.
  • It is important for the teen to maintain accessibility to school, activities, and peers from both homes.

Considerations for Distance Visitation 30 Miles to 100 Miles

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In General

  • What is fair and equal for the parents is not necessarily what is best for the child.
  • The aim of these visitation guidelines to build positive relationships between the parents and the child.
  • Moving too quickly into lengthy visits could have an opposite, potentially disruptive, effect on the relationship-building process.
  • When parents are in conflict, parents need to consider a neutral transition plan so their child is protected from the distress parental conflict can cause.
  • Parents must consider their children’s individual needs when they develop shared parenting arrangements. Children differ in how they cope with change and adjust to their parents’ separation.
  • If you have more than one child, you may need a different schedule for each. For example, a schedule that works well for an eight year old, may not work for a teenager. If this is the case, you may want a schedule that allows all of your children to be together at certain times.
  • When a parent has not been an active parent prior to separation, the initial parenting plan should allow that parent time to develop a relationship with the child. As the parent-child bond strengthens, changes can be made to the plan.
  • Parents who have been away or absent for a length of time (perhaps in the military or because of job requirements) need to build trust gradually with their children, so their children have an opportunity to get to know them.

NOTE: With today’s technology, it is possible for the distant parent to maintain a closer relationship. Instant Messaging, Skype, or similar means could be used. Many of these services are free. Phone conversations can be more meaningful when the child and parent can see each other while they talk. The distant parent could help children with their homework or work on projects together. They could even play games together. For the younger children, they have the advantage of “seeing” the distant parent on a regular basis. Parents should be encouraged to read a book on long-distance parenting for more ideas. During extended visitation with the distant parent, the residential parent should be afforded the same contact.

Birth to Eighteen Months

  • Consider a schedule that provides for the child to spend six to eight consecutive hours with the distant parent. If there has not been significant contact with the visiting parent, parents should start with two, three – four hour blocks for the first few visits, gradually increasing them six to eight hour blocks.
  • The distant parent could have one overnight visit, if trust is established between the parents and the parent and child.
  • Extended number of overnights and vacations with the non-residential parent are not advised during this early process.

Eighteen Months to Three Years

  • Consider visitation once every other week, or more often if practical. Time the child spends in the care traveling should be taken into account.
  • Visits should start at two consecutive days, up to eight hours per day. If visitation is new to the child, parents might start with doing two, four hour blocks of time each day.
  • Visits should gradually increase to overnights lasting (for example) from 9:00 am the first day to 5:00 pm the second day.
  • Lengthily overnights and vacations with the non-residential parent are urged against during this early process.

Three to Six Years

  • At this age, a child should be able to tolerate from two to four overnights in a row.
  • Consider visits that occur once every two weeks, for example, from 6:00 pm on the first day to 6:00 pm on the third day.
  • Additional/summer parenting time may be up to three weekends of three to four days in length each year. Visits may then gradually increase to two or three week blocks of time each separated by at least two weeks with the home base parent.
  • Regular phone contact is encouraged with little expectation of reciprocity by the child. During extended visitation, the child should be allowed regular phone contact with the home base parent, also with little expectation of reciprocity. Young children may only be expected to talk on the telephone for short periods of time, one to five minutes, typically.

Six to Nine Years

  • At this age, it is suggested that visits occur every other weekend, fore example from 6:00 pm on Friday to 6:00 pm on Sunday.
  • If school is closed on the Thursday before a visitation weekend then the visit can start on Thursday at 6:00 pm. If school is closed on Monday following a visitation weekend, then the visit can end on Monday at 6:00 pm.
  • Holidays can be split equally between the parents or alternate even/odd years.
  • Summer visitation can be three to four weeks in one to two week blocks, each separated by at least one week with the home base parent.
  • Regular phone contact should be established. During the extended visitation, the child should have ample opportunity to maintain contact with the residential parent.

Nine to Sixteen Years

  • Consider visits that occur every other weekend, from 6:00 pm on Friday to 6:00 pm on Sunday. Consider the child’s growing social and extra-curricular schedule.
  • If school is closed on the Thursday before a visitation weekend then the visit can start on Thursday at 6:00 pm. If school is closed on Monday following a visitation weekend, then the visit can end on Monday at 6:00 pm.
  • Holidays can be split equally between the parents or alternate even/odd years.
  • Summer vacation visitation can be from four to six weeks. It is suggested that the visits be in two to three week blocks with at least one week in between with the home base parent; or one block of visitation with the home base parent having the option for alternate weekend visits
  • Regular phone contact should be established. However, as the child enters their teen years, phone visitation should not be as ridged, allowing the child ample opportunity to call the parent.

Sixteen to Eighteen Years

  • Consider visitation of one or two, two to four week blocks each year.
  • Holidays can be split equally between the parents or alternate even/odd years.
  • The distant parent should not call too often, rather give ample permission for the child to call them.

Considerations for Distance Visitation More Than 100 Miles

Click here  to download a PDF version of this page.

In General

  • What is fair and equal for the parents is not necessarily what is best for the child.
  • The aim of these visitation guidelines is to build positive relationships between the parents and the child.
  • Moving too quickly into lengthy visits could have an opposite, potentially disruptive, effect on the relationship-building process.
  • When parents are in conflict, parents need to consider a neutral transition plan so their child is protected from the distress parental conflict can cause.
  • Parents must consider their children’s individual needs when they develop shared parenting arrangements. Children differ in how they cope with changed and adjust to their parents’ separation.
  • If you have more than one child, you may need a different schedule for each. For example, a schedule that works well for an eight year old, may not work for a teenager. If this is the case, you may want a schedule that allows all of your children to be together at certain times.
  • When a parent has not been and active parent prior to separation, the initial parenting plan should allow that parent enough time to develop a relationship with the child. As the parent-child bond strengthens, changes can be made to the plan.
  • Parents who have been away or absent for a length of time (perhaps in the military or because of job requirements) need to build trust gradually with their children, so their children have an opportunity to get to know them.

Birth to Eighteen Months

  • When a child is in infancy, if conflict is low between parents, it is recommended that one of the parents travel in either direction to enable both parents to spend time with the child. The non-residential parent should go to where the infant resides and/or the residential parent may travel with the infant to the vicinity of the distant parent. Consider contact at least once every two months.
  • During the visit, establish a schedule that allows short, but frequent contact with the infant. Perhaps two visits a day, one to two hours each, gradually increasing to two, four hour blocks each day. Visitation could continue for several days in a row.
  • Out-of-state visits, lengthily overnights, and vacations with the non-residential parent are strongly urged against during this early process.

Eighteen Months to Three Years

  • When a child is in the toddler stage, it is recommended that one of the parents travel in either direction to enable both parents to spend time with the child. Either the non-residential parent should go to where the toddler resides and/or the residential parent may travel with the toddler to the vicinity of the distant parent. Consider contact at least once every two months.
  • If the visiting parent has not had significant contact with the child, consider starting with two visits a day, three to four hours each. Gradually increase contact to one visit a day, up to eight hours. After three days of consecutive visits of eight hours, one overnight can be added. Visitation could be several days in a row.
  • Out-of-state visits, lengthily overnights, and vacations with the non-residential parent are strongly urged against during this early process.

Three to Six Years

  • At this age, it is advisable that one of the parents travels to the residence of the other parent.
  • Visitation could be one weekend a month and should consist of a two to three day maximum stay with the visiting parent. When the distant parent travels to the primary parent’s residence, this means that the visit may take place at a hotel or the home of a local friend.
  • Where it is difficult for parents to travel each month, parents can do up to four days in a row, up to six times a year.
  • Regular phone contact is encouraged with little expectation of reciprocity by the child. During the visitation, the child should be allowed regular phone contact with the home base parent, also with little expectation of reciprocity. Young children may only be expected to talk on the telephone for short periods of time, one to five minutes, typically. Use of technology, is recommended where the parent and child can see one another and the child can play while interacting. See note below.*

Six to Nine Years

  • At this age, children can tolerate out-of-state visitation in the other parent’s home.
  • Visits can be frequent, but should be no longer than two weeks at a time.
  • At this age, an entire summer is too long to be away from the home base parent.
  • Regular phone contact should be established. During the visitation, the child should have ample opportunity to maintain contact with the residential parent.

Nine to Thirteen Years

  • At this age, summer visits may be increased to four to six weeks in one block of time.
  • Additional holiday visitation may include half the Christmas break, all of spring break, Thanksgiving break and President’s Day weekend.
  • Regular phone contact should be established. During the visitation, the child should have ample opportunity to maintain contact with the residential parent.

Thirteen to Seventeen Years

  • Adolescents should be able to give input as to what goes into the visitation plan.
  • At this age, children can tolerate a variety of visitation schedules. It might be necessary to review the visitation on a yearly basis.
  • The decision as to whether or not they visit a parent should not be entirely the child’s.
  • The distant parent should not call too often, rather give ample permission for the child to call them.

*NOTE: With today’s technology, it is possible for the distant parent to maintain a closer relationship. Instant Messaging, Skype, or similar means could be used. Many of these services are free. Phone conversations can be more meaningful when the child and parent can see each other while they talk. The distant parent could help children with their homework or work on projects together. They could even play games together. For the younger children, they have the advantage of “seeing” the distant parent on a regular basis. Parents are encouraged to read a book on long-distance parenting for more ideas. During extended visitation with the distant parent, the residential parent should be afforded the same contact.

Reference Sources for Visitation Considerations

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AFCC (2006). Planning for Shared Parenting, A Guide for Parents Living Apart

Arizona Supreme Court, Court Services Division, Family Law Unit (2001). Model Parenting Time Plans for Parent/Child Access

Ball, Sunni, MA, DAPA, CASA of the Pikes Peak Region (2004). Recommendations for Supervised Parenting Time, How Much, How Often?

Baris, Mitchell, Ph.D and Garrity, Carla, Ph.D. (1988). Children of Divorce, A Developmental Approach to Residence and Visitation, Blue Ridge Printing Company

State of Idaho, Third Judicial District (2008). Focus on Children, Parenting Apart Education

State of Oregon – Basic Parenting Plan Guide

State of Washington, Spokane County Superior Court. Child-Centered Residential Schedules