A Parenting Plan is a written document that spells out the arrangements between two parents, or, in some cases, between parents and a third party who has parenting rights. Often, when a third party is involved, it is a grandparent who has provided care for the child or children. A Parenting Plan can be agreed to by the parents or, when they cannot agree, ordered by the Court.
The Plan usually is approved by a Court (a District Court Judge or Magistrate) and can be enforced by the Court if one or both parents violate it. The Plan generally is the end result of either a divorce (dissolution of marriage for parents who have been married) or a case for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities (usually when parents have not been married and sometimes when non-parents are involved).
Some parents say, "Oh, we don't really need a Parenting Plan. We can just work out the details of our parenting time as we go along." This approach almost never works and at times can result in conflict that is highly detrimental to the children whose parents are bickering over their arrangements for their offspring. Likewise, when parents agree to a vague plan that only states that they will work things out as they go along, there often is conflict.
The two primary areas that have to be addressed in the Plan are decision making responsibilities and parenting time. There is a form that non-represented parents (those without attorneys) can use to assist in writing their Plan at the Colorado State Judicial Branch website, www.courts.state.co.us. Parties who are represented by attorneys are likely to have a more detailed Plan than the one that is provided for on the state website.
The most important area for most parents to address is the parenting time. Most, although certainly not all, conflict in regard to children centers around the schedule. Frequent problems include failure of one parent to abide by the starting and ending times for parenting time and refusal to participate in the agreed-upon or Court-ordered plan for transporting the children for the parenting time.
Decision making also is important and must be addressed. In most cases parents agree to joint decision making and when there is a conflict that the Court is asked to resolve, the Judge or Magistrate also is likely to order joint decision making. While joint decision making works for some parents, in many cases parents also need a way of resolving differences, such as appointing a neutral third party, known as a Decision Maker or an Arbitrator, to make decisions when the parents reach an impasse. Having a third party to resolve the differences is important because it often takes many months, or even as long as a year, to get into Court to resolve differences regarding the parenting arrangements. It often is impractical to expect the Court to resolve these conflicts.
By Doris Truhlar