A parenting plan is a document that covers how a child is to be raised. It details who can make decisions for the child (legal custody) and when the child will be with each parent (physical custody) among other parenting-related topics.
When drafting a parenting plan, divorcing parents tend to only consider how they’ll handle custody and parenting decisions in the immediate future. However, children’s needs change as they get older.
This is where a step-up parenting plan can come in handy. A step-up parenting plan accounts for how the child’s needs will change over time to prepare parents for now and the future. It allows for phased-in parenting time.
Why Choose a Step-Up Parenting Plan?
A step-up parenting plan could save you the time and stress of returning to court or negotiating a new parenting plan every few years. It also eases your child into spending time with a noncustodial parent they don’t know well or are too young to spend significant time with.
Some noncustodial parents worry they’ll get stuck with one share of parenting time. But with a step-up parenting plan, they just have to meet the requirements outlined and they’re guaranteed more time as they move up each “step.”
Step-up parenting plans can work for many situations but are most common when a case involves:
- Infants and toddlers
- Estranged parents
- Parents with a history of crime, violence, or substance abuse
Benefits of step-up plans include: they increase the likelihood of equal shared parenting; they take stress off the child by easing them into time with a parent; they give the noncustodial parent and the child time to develop a healthy relationship; they ensure the noncustodial parent is fit to care for the child; and they eliminate the need for parents to return to court for modifications as the child ages.
What to Include in a Step-Up Parenting Plan
Step-up parenting plans are quite complex. The details of your plan depend on your child’s age, how familiar they are with the noncustodial parent, and the noncustodial parent’s behavior. However, there are a few basic topics every step-up parenting plan should cover.
To simplify the process of creating a parenting plan, you could hire a legal professional, use parenting software, or borrow from a sample step-up parenting plan. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one of these options.
Your plan should have the number of steps necessary for your situation. The purpose is to ensure the noncustodial parent is ready to take on a more active parenting role, and that the child has had enough time to bond with them.
Often, the noncustodial parent must complete certain tasks to progress through the plan. This is most common if they have a history of substance abuse or a criminal record.
For example, the plan could require them to attend a parenting class or pass random drug tests to move on to the next step. The child must also be comfortable enough to spend more time with them, especially before there can be overnight visits.
If the parent hasn’t seen the child in some time, both parent and child might attend therapy sessions together and individually to repair their relationship.
Each step has a corresponding child visitation schedule. It specifies the frequency and duration of each visit, and how long the arrangement will last. The noncustodial parent gets more parenting time as they move up a step.
The schedules vary based on your child’s age range and how well they know the noncustodial parent. For example, visits should start out short and consistent for young children and those who don’t know the parent well. Ultimately, you are working toward a standard schedule that will stay in place until the child turns 18.
Provisions are parenting rules. They can cover topics like the child’s diet and whether a third party needs to monitor the child’s visits with the noncustodial parent (called supervised visitation).
For a step-up plan, you can specify how the provisions will change over time. For example, an infant will go from bottle feedings to eating solid foods. Supervised visits could end once it’s safe for the child to be alone with the noncustodial parent.
A step-up parenting plan requires the cooperation of both parents. Be sure to include repercussions for not following the plan.
Commonly, if the noncustodial parent disobeys the plan, it either remains on the current step or reverts to an earlier step. If the custodial parent tries to interfere with the progression of the plan, the noncustodial parent may get more time with the child.