How to Create a Parenting Plan During Divorce

One of the key concerns for divorcing couples is the custody of the children and how the couple will divide their time during proceedings. Divorce can take months to years to conclude all matters. In the meantime, your family must strive to function as normally as possible.

Creating or obtaining a temporary parenting plan that clearly defines how you will share parenting time and responsibilities can help life run smoothly for kids and parents alike.

Temporary vs. Permanent Parenting Plans

A temporary parenting plan is put into place for the pendency of the divorce. It is a stopgap measure, a short-term solution. In contrast, a permanent parenting plan is decided as part of your divorce judgment once your case is concluded. Permanent parenting plans are designed to be enforced long-term or until circumstances require an amendment.

Temporary parenting plans are usually not as detailed as permanent plans, though they can be if needed. Temporary plans provide a basic roadmap for sharing parenting time and responsibilities until a longer, more comprehensive plan can be created.

How to Create a Temporary Parenting Plan

Temporary parenting plans can be created in one of two ways:

  1. By agreement. The parties and their attorneys can negotiate a parenting plan that everyone agrees with. This plan is then submitted to the court for approval. If approved, the court issues an order incorporating the agreement.
  2. Via a hearing. If parties can't agree on a parenting plan, the divorce court will hold a hearing to create one. Both sides have the opportunity to provide evidence and testimony. The judge issues a ruling quickly so that parents and children have a schedule to follow while the rest of the case is decided.

Three Parts of a Temporary Parenting Plan

A temporary parenting plan has three primary components that must either be agreed on by the parties or determined by the court:

  1. Where the children will live during divorce proceedings,
  2. How the parents will split up their time with the children during the divorce proceedings, and
  3. Which parent will have the right to make important decisions about the children (health, education, religion) during the course of the divorce.

How a Temporary Parenting Plan is Determined

If a couple and their attorneys reach an agreement on their own, the court will most likely approve it. If a hearing is held and the court must decide the plan's terms, the court will consider what is in the child's best interests.

There are a variety of factors that New York courts take into account when issuing a temporary custody order and parenting plan:

  • Mental and physical health of parents and children
  • Home environment each parent provides
  • Financial situation of each parent
  • Any incidents of domestic violence in the family
  • Alcohol or substance abuse issues in the family
  • Where the child's siblings or half-siblings reside
  • Parenting abilities of each parent
  • Special needs of the children
  • Work, activity, and travel schedules of the parents
  • Educational opportunities each parent can provide

These are complex and detailed issues. Since the court cannot dedicate much time to temporary orders, the judge usually encourages the parties and their attorneys to keep these hearings brief.

The Importance of a Temporary Parenting Plan

A temporary parenting plan may not seem significant. After all, it is only temporary and not a final determination by the court. But the order has tremendous importance for you and your case for the following reasons:

  1. Complex divorces take time. While the temporary order is only in place until a permanent order can be issued, a multi-faceted divorce will take many months and possibly more than a year to resolve fully. The divorce itself must determine custody and the couple's marital assets, including multiple homes, vehicles, investments, and businesses. Maintenance (spousal support) and child support must also be determined. While a temporary custody order is only temporary, it can actually remain in place for an entire school year or more.
  2. Temporary orders set the stage for permanent orders. Courts prefer to maintain the status quo when it comes to custody. Keeping the permanent parenting plan similar to the temporary plan is less disruptive for the children, especially when the temporary plan is working reasonably well. It is common for the basic outline of a temporary parenting plan to become the structure of the permanent custody order.

Your temporary custody order is very important. You may be living with it for a while, and it heavily influences your permanent order.

Preparing for a Temporary Custody Hearing

The court may not allow your attorney much time to prepare for a temporary custody hearing. The judge wants to quickly get the order in place, so the family is not in limbo. During the process, make yourself available to your attorney as much as possible so that you can share needed details and evidence supporting your perspective.

The key to a successful temporary custody hearing is to provide succinct, convincing, powerful evidence that does not require hours of testimony and courtroom time. It is important that you choose an experienced divorce attorney skilled at working within the confines of temporary hearings, knows how to prepare a convincing case, and knows how to convince the court that your position on custody is in the best interests of the children.

Temporary parenting plans are short-term resolutions that can have long-term impacts. Taking your temporary parenting plan seriously can ensure a smooth and healthy transition for you and your children.


Karen Rosenthal

Karen B. Rosenthal is a partner and co-founder at matrimonial litigation firm Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield LLP, where she brings 35 years of matrimonial law experience to bear in matters involving high-net-worth equitable distribution, contentious custody battles, and other high-stakes disputes. Certified as an Attorney for the Child and a frequent speaker on topics related to children going through high-conflict divorce, she has been recognized as a leading New York lawyer by Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, Crain's New York Business magazine, and New York magazine.

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