Minnesota Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements

A parenting plan describes how parents will cooperate after a divorce or separation. For many people, writing a parenting plan together resolves disagreements and avoids trial.

A parenting plan may seem intimidating to write — but we'll break it down for you.

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'Custody' versus 'parenting plan' orders

Every court order dealing with child custody in Minnesota determines legal and physical custody, as well as child support.

If you receive a basic order, it's called a custody and parenting time order. It usually includes a parenting time schedule.

Parenting plan orders emphasize parental cooperation and provide extra detail, which helps parents stay accountable. Parenting plans must include schedules.

When you agree on a parenting plan

When you agree on a parenting plan, you jointly propose it to the judge. The judge generally accepts it (unless they find it does not serve the child's best interest). At that point, your parenting plan becomes a legally binding court order.

If you agree on all but a few minor issues, you can still submit a plan together and let the judge decide the remaining issues.

Judges like when parents cooperate on a plan. This is easier on you, too. When you agree with the other parent:

  • You tend to get along better as it takes the emphasis off who "wins" or "loses."
  • You save money on legal fees.
  • You don't have to attend or pay for parenting classes.

When you disagree on a parenting plan

If you don't agree, you can submit individual proposals for parenting plans. The court then holds a trial or evidentiary hearing to choose between them or combine them.

It's possible for the judge to reject your proposals in favor of a basic custody and parenting time order. You'll also get a basic order if you say you do not want a parenting plan.

How to write a parenting plan

You can hire a lawyer to draft a parenting plan, or you can write it up yourself.

You may use whatever format you like, as long as it includes the necessary information. Some people use the We Agree worksheet, a form you must print and fill out with a pen. Many others use the Custody X Change parenting plan template, an online tool that offers more guidance.

Your plan must comply with the law. See the Domestic Relations section of the Minnesota Statutes, especially if you don't use a template. Chapter 518 addresses divorce, and 518A through 518F address specific areas like child support.

You may use your own custody terms in your parenting plan, as long as you explain how they relate to Minnesota's standard terms: joint legal custody, sole legal custody, joint physical custody and sole physical custody.

Use your terms consistently. If the court doesn't understand them, you may have to submit a revised plan. The judge's final order includes standard terms to ensure you can register it in other states and countries.

By writing a detailed parenting plan, you can prevent arguments. For example, while it's useful to mention "summer camp," it could be even better to specify which camp and the duration of the program.

Flexibility is also important. Addressing multiple versions of a scenario may help you meet your child's needs more swiftly.

Keeping your child's needs as the main priority will ensure that your parenting plan is fair and beneficial to them.

Required information in your parenting plan

In Minnesota, a parenting plan must include:

  • The parenting schedule (physical custody)
  • The types of choices each parent is responsible for making (legal custody)
  • The process for resolving parenting disagreements

Let's take a closer look at those three elements.

A parenting time schedule

The parenting time schedule should include a regular schedule, a holiday schedule and a discussion of how to handle vacations. It demonstrates how your physical custody arrangement will work day to day.

Responsibility and methods for making major decisions

Either parent or both parents may have this authority, officially called legal custody. Usually, major decisions are on topics like healthcare, education and religion. You can define other decisions you consider "major."

If you'll share decision-making responsibility, explain how you'll divide or cooperate on decisions.

Each parent will need to make minor decisions while with the child. It can be helpful to state this clearly in your plan.

A strategy for resolving disputes

In the future, you may disagree with the other parent about the parenting plan itself or about other issues related to your child. Write an approach for resolving these disagreements into your plan. Some parents commit to trying mediation or another alternative dispute resolution method before returning to court.

Suggested provisions to include

Your parenting plan may discuss anything you find relevant to the child's care. Optional subjects include:

  • Transportation of the child between parents
  • The child's belongings
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Social media use
  • How a parent's new partner may be introduced into the child's life
  • Safety issues particular to your households (e.g., guns, swimming pools, alcohol)
  • What happens if one parent moves farther away

The Custody X Change parenting plan template has more than 140 common provisions for you to customize or use as they are. Here are details on a few:

Communication between parents

You may want to set rules about how you and the other parent will communicate with each other about your child's care.

Will you call, text or email the other parent? Will you share a paper notebook? Or will you message each other on Custody X Change?

Calling the other parent before calling a babysitter

Some parents find it helpful to specify if and when they must offer time to the other parent before hiring a babysitter. This is called the right of first refusal or the right of first option of child care.

Anticipating child support and other expenses

If you have a strong proposal for child support, you can describe it in your plan. Make sure it treats your child fairly and doesn't stray far from how Minnesota calculates child support. The court can reject your idea. You may prefer not to make a proposal and simply let the judge decide.

If you receive a child support order, it determines how you'll share medical expenses (including orthodontic braces) and child care expenses. If you suspect the judge may not order child support because parents have similar incomes and child-related expenses, your plan is a good place to explain how you'll split the costs of doctors and babysitters.

With or without child support, use your parenting plan to anticipate other expenses. Generally, child support doesn't cover anything you'd describe as a choice rather than a necessity, like extracurricular activities and private schools. Remember to plan for how you'll pay, someday, for driver's ed and prom.

Changing your parenting plan order

The court doesn't want you to modify your order frequently. Generally, you must wait at least one year after receiving a custody or parenting plan order to request a change. After your hearing for a change request (whether or not the request is granted), you must wait two years to ask for another change.

You don't have to wait, though, if you agree with the other parent on a change, if the other parent is interfering with your parenting time or if your child is endangered.

If you want the court to officially change whom your child spends the majority of their time with (i.e., their primary residence), you must show that there are new circumstances and that the change would serve your child's best interests.

If you alone propose changing the primary residence, you must also show that either your child is endangered or the other parent moved the child out of Minnesota contrary to court order. Proving this requires an extra step called a Nice-Petersen hearing.

However, if your parenting plan says that either of you can request a change to your child's primary residence based solely on the child's best interests, then you don't need to prove danger or an out-of-state move. You avoid the Nice-Petersen hearing.

The easiest way to make a parenting plan

When you're writing a parenting plan, it's critical you use airtight language that leaves no room for interpretation. You must also be careful not to omit any information required by the court.

If you hire a lawyer or mediator, they'll write up the plan and ensure it meets the court's requirements.

If you write your own plan, use technology to take guesswork out of the equation. The parenting plan template in the Custody X Change online app walks you through each step.

The result is a professional document that demonstrates your competence as a parent from the first glance.

The easiest and most reliable way to make a parenting plan is with Custody X Change.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

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