Murfreesboro child custody lawyer

Is a “Step-Up” Parenting Plan Right for My Divorce?

If you have minor children and are contemplating divorce, one of the most important aspects of that divorce will be creating a Parenting Plan. Among other things, your Parenting Plan will include details regarding parenting time with the children, child support, and decision-making authority. For some parents, a “step-up” Parenting Plan is an option. A Murfreesboro custody lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains what a step-up Parenting Plan is and helps you decide if one is right for your divorce.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

In the State of Tennessee, a Parenting Plan is required to be part of any divorce that involves minor children to encourage both parents to remain constructively involved in parenting the children post-divorce. Tennessee Code Section 36-6-404 governs the requirements of a Parenting Plan which must accomplish at least the following:

  • Creating a schedule that sets forth, in detail, when the child will spend parenting time with each parent during the school year, summer break, and holidays.
  • Deciding who will have day-to-day and major decision-making authority.
  • Deciding who will pay for things such as medical insurance and expenses, day care, and extracurricular activities.
  • Setting the amount of child support one parent will pay to the other.
  • Determining how much contact the non-residential parent may have with the child and how that contact may occur (telephone, computer etc.)
  • Providing an outline for how disputes will be handled.

What Is a “Step-Up” Parenting Plan?

It can be easy to only consider your parenting needs, and the needs of your children, at the time of your divorce when negotiating the details of a Parenting Plan. Doing so, however, dramatically increases the likelihood that you will end up back in court soon for a modification. One way to prevent future litigation, as well as make the post-divorce transition easier for everyone involved, is to create a “step-up” Parenting Plan during your initial divorce. A step-up Parenting Plan takes into account the reality that children’s needs change as they get older. It can also allow for phased-in, or stepped-up, parenting time. A step-up Parenting Plan works particularly well when the children involved are relatively young at the time of the divorce and/or one parent has not spent much time parenting the children prior to the divorce. It can also be an option when there have been issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental health conditions that are of concern when discussing parenting time with the children. 

How Does a Step-Up Parenting Plan Work?

Basically, a step-up Parenting plan works just like it sounds. Each plan will be uniquely tailored to fit the circumstances; however, they will all include “steps” that are geared toward allowing one parent more parenting time with the children. If that parent meets the requirements of a specific step, they can move onto the next step. By way of illustration, consider the following examples:

  • In a divorce where the mother has been a stay-at-home mother and the children are young, a step-up parenting plan may simply allow for limited parenting time until the children are a little older. Once they reach school age, the plan will automatically grant the father more time with the children.
  • In a divorce where the mother has a history of substance abuse, the initial step in the Parenting Plan may be to require an inpatient rehabilitation program prior to allowing any parenting time. Step two might include supervised visitation for a specific period during which the mother must continue outpatient testing and submit to random drug screens. Only at step three would the mother be allowed unsupervised visitation.
  • In a divorce where one parent has been estranged, and the children are not comfortable with that parent (regardless of their age), a step-up parenting plan might phase-in visitation after required counseling.

Contact a Murfreesboro Custody Lawyer

If you have questions or concerns about including a step-up Parenting Plan in your divorce, it is important that you consult with an experienced Murfreesboro custody lawyer to discuss your options. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your free appointment.

Dinah Michael