Note: The following, like all posts on the Collaborative Compound, is offered for informational purposes only. It is not to be construed as providing legal advice, solicitation of or the formation of the attorney-client relationship. Onward and upward!
The Parenting Plan is one of the most daunting and contentious forms facing Tennessee’s divorcing couples. Once signed, it becomes a court ordered, legally binding contract that is punishable by contempt if a party violates its provisions. Because the document spells out where children will go on specific dates, subconsciously labels one parent as “preferential,” and deals with monetary issues like child support and insurance, it’s no wonder the Parenting Plan is a hotly contested issue in divorces with children. Usually the task of a mediator in Tennessee’s divorce cases involving children focuses on getting the parties to mutual agreement regarding the parenting plan. Hours can be spent in a mediator’s office working through the document with an attorney.
There is an easy way to approach the document, and I’m going to share it with you. It requires looking at the pages a little out of order, and an understanding of what “co-parenting” means in Tennessee’s eyes. Follow my suggested approach and you’ll have an easier experience digesting, filling out, and understanding Tennessee’s Parenting Plan form.
First, fill out the top section at the top of the page. You’ve already filed or been served with a Complaint by now, so you should be able to fill in which Court has your divorce, what County your divorce is in, who the Plaintiff and Defendant are, and their specific roles. The next step is to check “Proposed” if you and your spouse haven’t agreed in full on all the terms yet. Now, on the first page of the document, you will check “is a new plan” unless an existing Plan is in place through a court order.
Your final step AT THIS TIME on Page One is to write down your children’s names and their dates of birth in the areas applicable. Then turn to page FOUR.
The next stop is to look at “Major Decisions.” This section deals with who will make decisions regarding child care and upbringing details of your children. Tennessee loves “co-parenting,” or joint decision making. Unless you or your spouse feel very strongly about one particular area on this section, it’s probably best to check “both” for each section. Now leave page four and go to page five, Section D.
Your next step is to deal with the health and dental insurance section. Courts like it when both parties can maintain health and dental insurance on the children, so if you both have insurance through some mechanism you may want to check “maintained by both” on this matter. However, the parent with insurance will usually be the one with the check box next to their name marked here. Uncovered Medical and Dental expenses are usually split pro rata between the parties unless there’s a gross difference in income, so it’s easy enough to check “pro rata” here.
Go to page six, section E now. This deals with life insurance, and it’s “if agreed upon by the parties.” You can fill in the details here pretty easily. Now skip to section V. Disagreements or Modification of Plan. You have three options: mediation, arbitration, or The Court Due to Order of Protection or Restrictions. Most parties usually select mediation, as it’s non-binding and allows for a more relaxed process. Arbitration is like an informal court proceeding with someone acting as a judge. You will only check the final box if there’s an extenuating Order of Protection or another restriction placed by the judge, so don’t worry too much about that.
Now turn to page two, Section C: Holiday Schedule and Other School Free Days. This is going to be easier than it looks. Courts like a split 50-50 arrangement, so one manner of how to handle the holidays is to flip a coin and then start designating certain holidays for a parent as ODD (meaning the parent will get the child or children on odd numbered years) and EVEN (for even numbered years). Usually Mother will get the child for her birthday and Mother’s Day, and Father will get the child in the same capacity for those respective dates. Some parties even choose to label certain holidays as “SPLIT” (meaning half the day with one parent and half with another). This is really up to you as a group, so make the decision carefully.
Fall vacations are usually arranged around the child or children’s school schedule, so keep that into consideration when filling in this blank. Winter/Christmas vacation is divided into two parts as well, and usually filled out to accommodate the breaks in the school year. Keep in mind that if your child or children are not school age yet, you can always go back and revisit the parenting plan at the right time. Continue with Spring and Summer Vacations–the best bet is to work out a date and time to split the Spring and Summer half way.
Now proceed to Transportation Arrangements. Talk with your partner about a convenient location for the two of you for pick-up and drop-off of the children. If the situation is amicable, usually this can be the home of the other parent. If the parties are experiencing difficulties in their relationship preventing such an arrangement, a location usually suitable is a McDonald’s or another restaurant with a playground. As one local judge once remarked, “I don’t think McDonald’s gets its business because of the food these days.” Regardless, public places are highly favored here for contested arrangements. Joint payments for long distance transportation is usually a good idea unless one party is taking the other out for an extended vacation; another alternative is if one party has a greater income than the other.
Supervision of Parenting Time (Section I) is something most folks won’t have to worry about. Section J (Other) is if you have some kind of special provision you want placed into the Parenting Plan (i.e., “Visitation may be changed with 48 hours notice via phone or email.”)
Congratulations, you’ve almost completed an entire Parenting Plan without issue. The next posts will deal with the touchier issues of the parenting plan, including the designation of the Primary Residential Parent, Child Support, and the Parent Education Class. For now, rest easy knowing that you’ve almost completely filled in one of the most daunting legal forms you will face in a divorce with children. Pat yourself on the back, take a breather, and then return for part two.