Step-Up Parenting Plans

Children's needs change as they get older. The parenting plan and schedule that worked for your child as an infant isn't going to suit them as a teenager.

A step-up parenting plan evolves with the child. It eases them into spending more time with a noncustodial parent they don't know well or are too young to spend significant time with. Some states like Ohio and Texas call these arrangements phased-in parenting time.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can propose to the other parent.

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Parents can negotiate a step-up parenting plan, or one parent could propose the plan to the court. In either case, the judge will only approve the plan as part of the final custody order if it's in the child's best interest.

What is a step-up parenting plan?

A step-up parenting plan adjusts visitation over time. It's a good option for any family who wants to plan ahead and help their child adapt to living in two households. They're most common in cases involving:

The specifics of the plan depend on the child's age, how familiar they are with the noncustodial parent and the noncustodial parent's behavior.

Noncustodial parents may worry they'll always be stuck with the same share of parenting time. With a step-up parenting plan, they're guaranteed to get more time as they move up each "step" — so long as they meet the outlined requirements.

For example, the noncustodial parent might have to pass random drug tests or attend counseling to move up a step. Most importantly, the child must be comfortable enough to spend more time around the parent. Any attempt by the custodial parent to interfere with this progression without just cause (e.g., protecting the child from harm) violates the court order.

Ultimately, parents are working toward a standard schedule that will stay in place until the child turns 18.

Benefits of a step-up parenting plan

  • Eases the child into spending time with the noncustodial parent so it's not as stressful
  • Gives the noncustodial parent and the child time to develop a healthy relationship
  • Ensures the noncustodial parent is fit to care for the child
  • Increases the likelihood of equal shared parenting as parents learn to cooperate
  • Eliminates the need to return to court to modify the order as the child ages

Sample step-up parenting plan

To get an idea of how to structure your plan, explore the sample plan below made with the Custody X Change app.

Your state or county may only accept a specific parenting plan template, but they typically allow parents to attach additional forms.

In this scenario, the noncustodial parent, Jamie, has not seen their seven-year-old child in two years. The custodial parent, Susan, currently has sole physical custody. The end goal is for Jamie and Susan to have joint physical custody.

Experts recommended having a lawyer or mediator help you prepare your step-up plan, as it's crucial the document leaves no room for interpretation. If you cannot afford the services of either, reach out to a legal aid office or modest means program for help.


The top of your plan should include the information shown in the screenshot. You could add other personal information, like Social Security numbers, addresses, etc.


You'll need a written schedule for each step of your plan. Research child custody schedules for your child's age group to get an idea of what will work best.

Specify the start and end dates for each schedule and the frequency and duration of each visit. You'll cover who can transport the child and whether supervision is necessary in the provisions section detailed below.

Custody X Change automatically translates the visual schedules you create within the app to proper legal language.

Since Jamie hasn't seen the school-age child in two years, it's important they start with short, supervised visits that get longer over time.

There isn't a minimum or maximum number of schedules/steps you should have. It all depends on what best suits the needs of your child and allows the noncustodial parent sufficient time to prove they're ready to take on a more active parenting role.

By the fourth schedule, Jamie has the 1st, 3rd and 5th weekend of each month, plus a midweek visit every week, which becomes an overnight in the succeeding step.

The standard schedule that will stay in place until the child turns 18 (or until it's modified) is represented by schedule seven.

Type of custody

Specify the type of custody parents will have and whether it will change as your plan progresses.

The bold number beside each topic (e.g., legal custody) represents a section of the plan. Sections are vital for organization and make it easier to navigate the details of your plan.

Provisions and steps

Provisions are rules parents must follow. Add as many to your plan as you'd like. Generally, the more you decide on ahead of time, the less confusion and conflict you'll face when parenting issues arise later.

Common provision categories for step-up parenting plans include:

Supervised visits are common in step-up plans since it might be unsafe or uncomfortable for the child to be alone with the noncustodial parent at first. A supervised visit either takes place in a supervised visitation facility or takes place elsewhere with a third party present. This arrangement also helps the custodial parent keep track of the child's location during visits.

You can see Jamie and Susan have agreed to eventually end supervised visits.

If you use Custody X Change, you can create custom provisions to spell out the details of your steps. A good place to put this information is the "contact" section, as it lays out how the child will interact with the parents and others.

You could start with an explanation of how the plan will progress and the guidelines that will apply across all steps (if any).

For each step, name the schedule you'll follow. Include the start and end dates, and the conditions under which the plan can proceed to the next step. In this example, Jamie must attend a parenting class and counseling to get more parenting time.

Depending on your circumstances, the succeeding steps may have fewer requirements.

The final step has no more specific conditions and instead refers back to the 'Step-Up Plan Progression' (section 5).


To complete your plan, each parent should sign it to confirm they agree to the terms. To add this section in Custody X Change, go to the "parenting plan" tab, click "settings," then check the box next to "include signature section."

The easiest way to make a step-up parenting plan

Step-up parenting plans are complex. Custody X Change provides you with structure — but also flexibility — so you get a plan that meets your family's needs for years to come.

It offers popular provisions to choose from and lets you add in custom provisions. Plus, you can save your plan as a Word document to make all the tweaks you want: formatting, organization, etc.

The Custody X Change app can also help you manage your step-up parenting arrangement:

Use the Custody X Change app's versatility to your advantage.

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can propose to the other parent.

Make My Plan & Schedule Now

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can propose to the other parent.

Make My Plan

Custody X Change is software that creates parenting plans and schedules you can propose to the other parent.

Make My Plan & Schedule Now

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