7 Tips for Establishing a Parenting Plan in a Divorce

A parenting plan is a court order that establishes how parents will share the responsibilities of caring for their children after they divorce.

A parenting plan should include provisions on:

  • Where the children primarily live and how often they stay with the other parent (a residential schedule)
  • How to make decisions concerning the children (like choosing a daycare)
  • How any future parenting disputes will be resolved
  • Any other important stipulations on how you and your former spouse will co-parent your children

Here are 7 tips on how to establish a parenting plan that is in both you and your children's best interests:

1. Keep a calendar and document all exchanges and activities that you participate in with your child.

One of the most important factors the court considers at the beginning of a case is maintaining the status quo. Recreate a calendar for the last 6-12 months and show what role you have played in your child's life. This will make it easier to establish what the parenting plan should look like going forward.

2. Show the court that you can provide physical stability for your child.

Child Custody

Although the court understands that you may need to move from the family home when you separate from your spouse or partner, dragging your child around with you while you sleep on friends' couches can be very disruptive to your child.

If you must leave the family home, you should try to establish a new, somewhat permanent residence as soon as possible. Make sure that the new residence has adequate room for you and your children. If you are not able to afford a residence with enough bedrooms, the court may want you to consider a sofa bed while your child has his/her own room.

3. Try to work with your spouse/partner to develop a parenting plan that is going to work best for everyone.

Even though you are splitting up, unless there are safety issues you are likely going to have to co-parent your child with your spouse/partner for several years after your divorce. The less conflict that you have with each other, the more smoothly your child will be able to transition between households. This may include having pick-ups and drop-offs at school to avoid unnecessary confrontation between parents.

4. Seek counseling as part of providing emotional stability for your child.

The process of separation is going to be difficult enough for your child; do not subject them to your own emotional outbursts as well. When appropriate, you should seek the assistance of a counselor for you and/or your children to help deal with the stress of the breakup of the family.

5. If you are in the military or your job otherwise subjects you to long periods of absence from your child, try to establish frequent contact upon your return.

The court understands that your employment may take you away from your child involuntarily. What is important is to show the court that you have the ability to reestablish that connection with your child when you return home. Do this by regularly spending time with your child when possible, talking to your child on the phone frequently, and engaging in important activities or family events with your child.

6. Do not involve your child in discussions about the legal case.

Your child, no matter what age, will not be allowed to decide where he or she lives. The court frowns on involving the children in legal matters, especially when determining a parenting plan.

If your child is of sufficient age and maturity, the court may consider their wishes, but this is generally done through the use of a counselor or Guardian ad Litem/Parenting Investigator. Do not allow your child to read the pleadings from your case and do not otherwise discuss the status of your case with your child.

7. If necessary, collect witnesses who are willing to write declarations or testify on your behalf.

During court proceedings, there may be opportunities for witnesses to praise your parenting relationship with your child. Remember to only use key witnesses who have something important to say about you and/or your parenting. While having people corroborate your point of view is useful, having five people say the same thing about you does not automatically make it truer.

Establishing child custody and parenting plans are often a contentious part of the divorce process. Doing your best to keep your children outside of the conflict and maintaining as much normalcy as possible should be your first priority. This will also help you work towards establishing a parenting plan that best meets their needs.

More Information

Learn how child custody is determined in a divorce, or contact a McKinley Irvin family law attorney to discuss your questions about child custody and parenting plans.

Contact McKinley Irvin for more information about child custody cases in Washington State and Oregon.


Please be advised that family law cases can be very complex and are different for everyone, based on unique circumstances. The information provided here should not be construed as legal advice in your case.

McKinley Irvin proudly serves Washington State and Oregon with offices in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Puyallup, Vancouver and Portland. Contact our family law offices to set up an appointment with a McKinley Irvin family attorney.

Categories: Child Custody
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