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Parenting Plans and Best Interest Factors

This is a great little article from a booklet published by the Office of State Court Administrators for the State of Missouri - it is not the law in other states, but it still might be helpful in helping you build a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the children. Sept. 2, 2022

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a written plan of how parents will provide for the care and well-being of their child. A parenting plan:

• Must always be “in the best interest of the child;”

• Must be presented to the court for approval; and

• Is binding on the parents once approved by the court.


What is in the best interest of the child?


The law requires the courts to consider these factors:

• The wishes of the child’s parents as to custody and the proposed parenting plan submitted by both parties.

• The needs of the child for a frequent, continuing and meaningful relationship with both parents and the ability and willingness of parents to actively perform their functions as mother and father for the needs of the child.

• The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents, siblings, and any other person who may significantly affect the child’s best interests.

• Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, continuing and meaningful contact with the other parent.

• The child’s adjustment to the child’s home, school, and community.

• The mental and physical health of all individuals involved, including any history of abuse of any individuals involved. If the court finds that a pattern of domestic violence as defined in section 455.010 has occurred, and, if the court also finds that awarding custody to the abusive parent is in the best interest of the child, then the court shall enter written findings of fact and conclusions of law. Custody and visitation rights shall be ordered in a manner that best protects the child and any other child or children for whom the parent has custodial or visitation rights, and the parent or other family or household member who is the victim of domestic violence from any further harm.

• The intention of either parent to relocate the principal residence of the child.

• The wishes of a child as to the child’s custodian. The fact that a parent sends his or her child or children to a home school, as defined in section 167.031, shall not be the sole factor that a court considers in determining custody of such child or children.

Why have a parenting plan?

• It is required by law under 452.310.8. RSMo.

• It allows parents to choose what works best for their child.

• It puts the needs of the child ahead of the wishes of either parent.

• It can be a guide to solving future problems.

• It can help continue the parent-child relationship.

• To maximize to the highest degree amount of time the child may spend with each parent.


When do I need to do a parenting plan?

·       The petitioner and the respondent, either individually or jointly, must submit a parenting plan in any dissolution or legal separation where there are children of the marriage.

·       A parenting plan also must be filed where a motion to modify involves custody, visitation or child related issues.

·       The plan must be filed within thirty (30) days after service of the summons or the filing of an entry of appearance, whichever occurs first.

·       A parenting plan is optional if the child is over the age of 18. However, the court still may order that a parenting plan be filed or the parties may agree to file a parenting plan.


What is included in a parenting plan?

When preparing your parenting plan, remember that specific information in the following four areas must be included:


Custody and Parenting Time

Your child, whenever possible, needs to have frequent, continuing and

meaningful contact with both parents. Your plan must specify:

• The legal custody and physical custody arrangements for your child;

• Which parent will provide the primary residence for your child;

• How much parenting time your child will spend with each parent including a schedule for vacations and holidays;

• Where your child will be exchanged and how your child will be transported for all scheduled parenting time;

• How the parents will make and communicate needed changes in parenting time schedules; and

• Any restrictions necessary to protect your child.

Decision-Making Rights and Responsibilities

• Parents should attempt to share responsibility for making all major decisions regarding their child.

• Your plan must state how decisions will be made in all areas of your child’s life, including education, medical and dental care, selection of health care providers, selection of child care providers, activities, and religious upbringing.

• If responsibility for making a decision in any area of your child’s life will not be shared, your plan must state who will make the decision and must explain why it is not in your child’s best interest to share making the decision.

• Your plan must specify how parents will communicate information such as personal contact, telephone, mail, electronic mail, etc.

Dispute Resolution (Problem-Solving)

Your plan must state how parents will resolve disagreements on child-related

issues. Parents are encouraged to use the court only as a last resort to settle

disputes and first to:

• Work together to reach a decision they both agree is best for their child; or

• Try alternative dispute resolution such as counseling or mediation.

Expenses of the Child

Both parents are responsible for their child’s expenses. Your plan must include

the amount of child support to be paid by one parent to the other parent.

It may be necessary to include in your plan how other items, such as

insurance, medical and dental care, educational costs, extra-curricular

activities, and child care will be paid.


Does this favor mothers/fathers more?

No preference may be given to either parent in the awarding of custody

because of that parent’s age, sex, or financial status, nor because of the age or

sex of the child. The court shall not presume that a parent, solely because of

his or her sex, is more qualified than the other parent to act as a joint or sole

legal or physical custodian for the child.

Where can I get more information?

You can get more information on parenting plans including guidelines and a suggested parenting plan form from:

• An attorney

• A professional mediator

• The circuit clerk’s office in your local courthouse


* No court shall adopt any local rule, form, or practice requiring a

standardized or default parenting plan for interim, temporary, or permanent

orders or judgements.