Creating a Parenting Plan That Works

photograph © Karelnoppe |

When parents split up and begin divorce proceedings, often the most critical, and contested, negotiation they face is the custody of shared children. In Tennessee, the law requires parents to have a Parenting Plan. Here’s how to navigate the plan and work within the Parents’ Bill of Rights. This will help you avoid pitfalls that commonly occur in custody negotiations.


What is a Parenting Plan?

A Parenting Plan is a court order that:
•     Designates which parent is the custodial parent (or primary residential parent) of the minor children,
•     Establishes the parenting schedule for the children, and addresses decision-making, child support, payment of uncovered medical expenses, and so forth. 
•     It’s important to note that as a parent, you can either agree on a plan or a court will order a plan for you. It’s to your benefit to agree on a Parenting Plan with your soon-to-be-ex, as a court-ordered plan may not take into account your family’s dynamic, traditions, and special circumstances.


Where do I start?

A Parenting Plan begins with a form outline you can get from your attorney or online. The form includes several sections that consider your child’s day schedule, holiday and vacation schedule, insurance coverage, etc., but allows for flexibility. Work with your attorney to complete the outline, making sure to tailor your plan to your circumstances. Your attorney should work with you to include specific language that most benefits your children.


What should my Parenting Plan include?

Many disagreements can be avoided by using detailed language in your plan. Include specific dates and times and who is responsible for transportation. For example, if visitation is Friday to Sunday, include specific pick-up and drop-off times and locations. Also, be sure to specify a holiday schedule that works for both of you.  
Once you sign a Parenting Plan and agree to its terms, you are bound by it. Take time to include specifics to avoid any regrets in the future. While it’s possible to modify a Parenting Plan, you must prove to the court that there has been a material change in circumstances since the entry of the previous parenting order and be willing to take on the expensive litigation the modification will require.


What is a Parents’ Bill of Rights?

Every Parenting Plan includes a section that most attorneys refer to as the Parents’ Bill of Rights. This affords both parents rights regarding:
•     Conducting private telephone conversations with your children
•     Sending mail to your children that cannot be opened by the other parent
•     Receiving notification of hospitalization, major illness, or death of a child
•     Receiving school records directly from the children’s school
•     Receiving copies of the children’s medical health records directly from the physician or healthcare provider
•     Freedom from unwarranted derogatory remarks made about the parent in the presence of the children
•     Receiving adequate notice for all extra-curricular activities, and the opportunity to participate or observe them
•     Receiving an itinerary (including cell numbers for use in the event of an emergency) should the other parent leave the state with the minor child or children for more than two (2) days
•     Participating in educational activities on the same basis that is provided all parents (ie, having lunch with your child at school).

See a parenting plan here:

While going through a divorce is never easy, having a good parenting plan in place will make your co-parenting life easier.

— Justin Thomas is a family attorney with Thomas Family Law Firm, PLC. For an explanation of Parents’ Bill of Rights, visit


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