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Ask the Judge – Do I need an Attorney’s Help to Create a Parenting Plan?

From Mark Baer’s CoParenter blog, contributed from a guest blogger 

Dear Judge,

My ex and I are on a tight budget and want to avoid costly attorney’s fees. We get along well. Can we come up with a Parenting Plan on our own without hiring an attorney?

Absolutely! As long as you and your coParent are committed to working together to create a Parenting Plan that’s best for your children, there is no need for extra costs.

Now, before I shed some light on how to create an affordable Parenting Plan, let’s review exactly what a Parenting Plan is. A Parenting Plan is also frequently referred to as a Custody and visitation agreement. It is a written schedule that outlines how, when and where your children will spend their time. It also includes information about the decisions you and your ex make about your children’s health and well-being.

When creating a Parenting Plan, the first things to consider are your children’s ages, personalities, activities, and school schedule. Every child, and every family is different. Adjusting your plan to your children, and NOT your children to YOUR plan is very important here. I’ve even heard some refer to it as a “Child’s Parenting Plan,” because ultimately the plan is for their benefit!

In general, you’ll want to make sure your Parenting Plan includes the following information:

Physical Custody: Where will your children be during the week, weekends, and on holidays?

Legal Custody: Who makes important decisions about the children? Be specific about which decisions you and your coParent can make without the other’s consent. Things like choosing a school, daycare, religious preference, and medical treatment are important to consider here.

While it’s not required to seek legal counsel, it can be helpful to understand the legal requirements for parenting plans where you live.  Additionally, coParents may need a little extra help throughout the process, especially if they’re newly separated. The coParenter app, for example, is an excellent resource to help create a Parenting Plan or alter one that already exists. The app has the Get Help feature where you can access a live chat with an on-demand professional who can assist in creating or changing a Parenting Plan. In addition, many courts across the country have self-help or Family Law Centers where court staff can walk you through the process and provide forms and information needed to file Parenting Plans with the Court.

While attorneys aren’t required, keep in mind that Parenting Plans can have important legal implications. For example, changes to where children are spending the majority of their time can have an effect on how much child support one receives. Remember- filing a family’s Parenting Parenting plan with the Court can help to make it official.

Finally, I want to applaud you and your coParent for your commitment to working together. Kudos to you for putting aside your differences to create a Parenting Plan that works for everyone. By coming to an agreement amongst yourselves about your children’s needs and schedule, you’ll save time and money — freeing up your resources to focus on them!


Sherrill Ellsworth

Judge Ellsworth began serving as a court commissioner in 1996 and was appointed to the bench in 2005. In 1999, she was named the American Business Women’s Association Woman of the Year for Judicial Leadership. Judge Ellsworth was appointed vice-chair of the California Court Case Management System Justice Partner Advisory… MORE >

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