During the divorce process, one of the first questions parents often ask is, “What’s a normal parenting plan?”

While many parenting plans may contain similar provisions or schedules, every parenting plan is unique to each family’s circumstances. Additionally, a family with a history of domestic violence, abuse, or chemical dependency issues will likely have a parenting plan that includes certain restrictions to protect the safety and welfare of the children. These restrictions will be discussed in an upcoming blog post, so we won’t address them here. For purposes of this blog post, assume that restrictions are not an issue.

There is no standard or cookie-cutter visitation schedule for parenting plans (often referred to as a ‘residential schedule’). So when creating a parenting plan, attorneys will specify how the parents are splitting residential care in a manner that best fits that family.

One parent is designated as the primary custodial parent (the children live with this parent the majority of the time), and the other parent would be scheduled to care for the children on specified days and dates.A good place to start is a simple split-weekend schedule, with alternating mid-week visits.

Here’s what that provision may look like in a parenting plan. The children will live with Parent A, except when they are scheduled to live with Parent B as detailed below:

  • Weekends: every other weekend, from Friday after school until school on Monday morning. If school is not in session, then 4:00pm on Friday to 9:00am on Monday.
  • Mid-week: every other week, alternating with the weekend schedule, from Thursday after school until 8:00pm. If school is not in session, then 4:00pm to 8:00pm on Thursday.

This means that Parent B would have one overnight visit on the weeks that s/he is not scheduled to visit the children that following weekend. Below is an illustration of a 5-week calendar. Parent B’s visitation is scheduled on the blue days.

In addition to the weekly schedule, parenting plans also address holidays and special occasions, including Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Spring Break, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Winter Break, New Year’s Day, and the children’s birthdays, as well as any other special holidays or occasions celebrated by the family.

The easiest way to allocate holidays is to simply designate that one parent has the children in even years and the other parent has the children in odd years.

Finally, the parenting plan will address summer vacation.

Typically, each parent is granted one or two weeks of uninterrupted vacation time with the children each summer. The parents should be required to coordinate by providing notice of their intended vacation days to the other parent well in advance of the summer break. For example, Parent A gets first choice of summer vacation dates in even years, while Parent B gets first choice in odd years.

Although the custody process is not ideal for any family, whether through a divorce or between unmarried parent, having a detailed parenting plan that leaves little room for debate or interpretation will help avoid unnecessary confusion or conflict down the road. The goal is to honor both parent’s constitutional right to parent their children in a way that serves the children’s best interests. And approaching parenting plan negotiations in good faith will certainly benefit the family.