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In family law cases with minor children, parenting plans will often be used by themselves, or in conjunction with a marital settlement agreement in order to lay out when parties will have parenting time, how decision-making authority will be split between the parents, and how financial or other issues will be dealt with down the road. To see Wisconsin Family Court Forms including Proposed Parenting Plans, click here.

In this article, we explain the common terms of Wisconsin parenting plans, including:

  • Parenting Time
  • Decision Making Authority
  • Child Care and Transportation
  • Health Care and Taxes
  • Child Support
  • Dispute Resolution

Parenting Time

Parenting time for each party is often a major issue in dispute and reason for making a parenting plan. How parenting time will be divided is up to the parents and the court if parents are unable to agree. Parenting plans should ultimately be what is in the best interests of the child(ren).

If the parents live in close proximity, or in the same school district, joint custody and shared parenting time are much easier to accommodate. Parents can exercise joint legal custody and split parenting time more evenly, such as one week for parent A, then one week for parent B, and so forth.  

If the parents are not so near to one another, the parent who gets the majority of parenting time/custody will likely be the one responsible for enrolling the child in the school district that they reside in. If this is the case, it will likely be in the child’s best interest that the parent with primary custody have the majority or all parenting time during school days/nights in order to accommodate the child’s school schedule. It is common for the other parent to get weekend parenting time (such as every other weekend) or increased parenting time during the summers.  

Parenting plans generally lay out a holiday schedule. While parties can agree between themselves, a holiday schedule will make clear who will get parenting time on any given holiday. Summers are also often treated differently than school-year parenting time.  

Decision Making Authority

Custody is not just about how much parenting time each parent gets, it is largely about who has decision-making authority over the child’s needs and activities. Parents can have joint decision-making authority, such that they need to agree upon the issue being decided. Alternatively, they can decide which parent will have sole decision-making authority for a given issue type. For example, they could have joint decision-making authority over non-school activities such as sports, but parent A could be solely responsible for decisions regarding childcare providers.  

Common areas requiring decision-making authority include non-emergency health care, education and school activities, childcare providers, non-school activities, religious decisions, and any other area that might relate to the custody of the child.  

Healthcare decisions could include medical, dental, or psychological needs of the child. Education decisions could include where the child goes to school, tutoring, or extracurricular activities. Non-school activities could include sports, programs, or other activities, especially if they interfere with one parent’s parenting time. Religious decisions might be made as part of the parenting plan to formalize in writing what religion, if any, the child will be raised in.  

Child Care and Transportation

Regardless of who has decision-making authority over childcare providers, parents can decide in the parenting plan how they will go about getting childcare. It is common for parenting plans to include a “right of first refusal.” This means if one parent, during their parenting time, needs to hire a babysitter or childcare provider, they will first have to offer the parenting time to the other parent. Parties can also include relatives or other family members that should have priority over paid childcare.  

The parenting plan can establish which childcare provider the parties have chosen, and how the parents will split the cost of that childcare.  

When one parent’s parenting time is up, and the other parent’s time begins, it is necessary to transport the child. The parenting plan should explain how transportation responsibilities will be divided by the parties. Who is responsible for drop-offs/pick-ups? At what time does the child need to be dropped off/picked up by? Where is the child to be picked up or dropped off?  

While circumstances change, and parents often agree to minor tweaks to accommodate the schedules of the children or parents. Having a clear plan in place helps avoid conflict and can be a reference if there is a dispute.  

Health Care and Taxes

Regardless of who has decision-making authority for health care, parenting plans should include how the child’s health care is paid. Often, health insurance for the child is part of one parent’s health insurance through work, and that parent can remain responsible for the continuation of that health insurance. A parenting plan can also identify which doctor, dentist, etc. that the child should be taken to if necessary.  

Taxes. Parents will want to know when they can claim a child as a dependent (for an exemption) for their tax returns. Generally, the custodial parent (whoever the child spent more nights with over the course of the year) would be the one eligible to claim the child. However, parties may agree in the parenting plan to let the non-custodial parent claim the child for some years. For example, odd years for Spouse A and Even years for Spouse B. IRS form 8332 is used for this purpose, and the parties may have to consult a tax professional to make sure they can effectuate the agreement while complying with the IRS rules.      

Child Support

Child support is standardized and predictable. Consider trying a child support calculator for an estimate of what your child support payments would be. It is based mostly on the percentage of gross income and the number of children requiring support. A parenting plan will include how much a parent is required to pay for child support. Parties can also agree upon what they would like child support to be, provided that the court approves it. The court may also diverge from the state support guidelines if the amount would be unfair to the children or parents.  For the most recent updates on Wisconsin child support laws, please visit Wisconsin Child Support Law Updates.

Dispute Resolution

Parenting plans should set clear guidelines, so parents have less to fight about. No matter how good the parenting plan is, issues pop up, and things change. If there is an issue that comes up, a parenting plan can include a section about how the parties will deal with that issue in order to resolve it without further intervention from the court. In the “Resolving Disagreements” section, parents can decide to let one parent decide the issue. They could also decide to appoint a t that the parents will allow to help them resolve the issue, or act as a “tiebreaker.” Parents should think of what works best for them and try and implement it into the parenting plan.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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