Do I need to go to court to modify or create a parenting plan?

No, you do not. For permanent changes, a parenting plan can be created or modified with a writing that is signed by both parents. It is now an enforceable contract.


For non-permanent changes, you do not have to do anything, but it can become enforceable if you do it often enough.


For example, if your co-parent picks up your child Saturday for an extra 4 hours:

·         If this is once in a while, there is no impact on the written parenting plan.

·         If this becomes every weekend, or several weekends over a short time, the other parent may be able to assert an enforceable verbal change to the parenting plan.

However, it is important to note that a parenting plan is distinct from court-ordered custody. 

                        What is the difference between                              a parenting plan and a custody order?

I like to think of this as the court providing the boundaries, while the parenting plan provides the details. 

There are two types of custody

Once the court makes these decisions, now you can craft a parenting plan to decide things like:

Things that the parenting plan cannot establish [when you have custody orders]:


What if my co-parent is not following the parenting plan?


If your co-parent is not following the parenting plan, you can take them back to Family Law Court to modify the plan. It is important that you have language in your original plan that states that continual non-compliance with the parenting plan can be cause for creating a new custody agreement.


Even without this language, there is a good chance that their custody rights will be negatively affected, but with it:

1.   They are on notice that bad behavior will have consequences; and

2.   You have an even stronger case in Family Law Court

If we have 50/50 physical custody, does that mean that I have to do a week-on/week-off schedule?

No, there are lots of variations to a week-on/week-off schedule. 

You might consider a 2/2/3 or 3/4 schedule. For example, with a 2/2/3 schedule you would have 2 days with the kids, switch for 2 days and then have 3 days with the kids; the next week switches. Or a 3/4 means that you get three days with the kids, then your coparent gets four days and you switch.   

You might also look at it as one parent has the child for school and the other parent has the child for every school break. This is a good way to maintain a schedule when one parent moves away.

How do I create a developmentally appropriate schedule?


Some things you might want to consider are:


How simple or complicated are you willing to make the schedule?

o   How well do you communicate with your co-parent?

o   How reliable is your coparent?

o   How will this impact your life?


How old is the child?


o   For a very young child (0-3)

§  Seeing both parents often is crucial for building a parent-child bond.


o   Once a child begins school

§  Your child is old enough to start going for longer periods without seeing the other parent.

§  Especially if the child is old enough to engage in meaningful, even if brief, phone or video calls in between visits.


o   When a child is old enough to travel on their own,

§  It is even easier for them to go for longer periods with each parent and travel between parents.


How does your child handle change?


o   For the confident mature child, they will adapt to any schedule.


o   For the child that needs a lot of structure

§  You may either have to limit changes or create a strong routine for change days. 


Creating a routine for change days can be very helpful, for example:


o   Involve your child in the calendaring so that they can look for themselves when they are supposed to be with the each parent.

§  A visual or tactile calendar works better than words, and

§  For very young children who do not have the concept of a week, you may have to get creative with how you help them count the days until the change.


o   Let them help you pack their bag, this gives them a sense of control over the situation and is kinesthetic way for them to process the change (for those who learn best through doing)


o   Make sure to pack something special that travels back and forth (a blankie, book or favorite toy)



o   Don’t forget to use your words to help them understand:

§  First you are going to school, then (Daddy/Mommy) will pick you up. You will stay with them for 2 sleeps (count them on your fingers or show 3 fingers) and I will pick you up on the 3rd day.

What information will help the parenting planning process go more quickly?


Have all school calendars printed out and take the time to note 

a. Days off

b. Modified Days

c. Special Days (back to school, open house, celebrations, dances, conferences, IEP Reviews)

Know all the dates for signing your children up for camps and have a list of camps available.

Most camps release their dates by March, you can prepare by:

Know when your children’s next physicals and dental dates are scheduled

Think about what vacations:

a. You’d like to take

b. You expect that your co-parent will ask for

c. Your family is expecting you to take

Have the dates of any planned work trips or annual conferences

Think through holidays and special days

a. How has your family been celebrating these days

b. If you could preserve special celebrations for your children (with your family or your co-parent’s family) what would they be

c. What holidays are you willing to let go of

d. How could you create new holiday traditions

What other information would you like your Co-parent to have at the mediation?