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The Ultimate High Conflict Parenting Plan Checklist

Conflict between spouses can be quite intense during divorce. But tensions can jump another level even after you receive a divorce decree. The source of conflict is often children—who are caught in between their parents. To reduce the likelihood of conflict, parents need a detailed, airtight parenting plan. Even the best plans can’t eliminate all fights, but you can radically lower the temperature by following this checklist. Contact Surasky Law Firm today if you have questions. A divorce lawyer in South Carolina is available to meet with anyone who has questions.

Here's a breakdown of the key elements of a high-conflict parenting plan:

Overnights Schedule

At a minimum, a parenting plan lays out who the children spend the night with. You should include this information for:

  • Monday through Sunday during the school year

  • School vacations

  • Summer vacation

  • Child's birthday

  • Parent's birthday

  • Siblings' birthdays

  • Holidays, including Thanksgiving

Makeup Parenting Time

A child might get sick and cannot travel, or they will have a conflicting obligation, like a sports competition or other activity. You need to spell out in the parenting plan what will happen:

  • Does the parent get makeup time with the child?

  • When?

  • Who decides the days?

  • What if parents can’t agree?


In our experience, an enormous amount of conflict arises with picking up or dropping off the child. This is called the “exchange.” You want to visualize in detail the exchange, including:

  • Day and time

  • Location

  • Which number to call if you can’t make the exchange

  • How much advance notice you must give if you are late or the child isn’t coming

  • Who will pay for gas or other transportation costs

Exchange Options

Often, exchanges at school are the easiest for high-conflict parents to navigate. Include details about exchanges for days when there isn’t school or the child gets out early. Get a copy of the school calendar and incorporate that information.

Phone Calls

Some parents even argue over whether the parent can speak to the child on the phone. There’s comfort in scheduling regular telephone time with a child, especially a young child who doesn’t have a cell phone.

Include details on:

  • Time to call

  • Duration of call

  • What happens if the child can’t talk

Decision Making for Your Child

The right to make certain major decisions is part of having legal custody. Both parents can share custody, which means they both get a say. But there are tons of little, minor decisions that a parent will make when a child is in their possession. These minor decisions are often a source of conflict:

  • Getting a tattoo

  • Buying toys or expensive items with the child’s own money

  • Seeing an R rated movie

  • Spending nights with friends

Parents who want to fight will make a big deal over being “kept in the dark” about relatively minor things like those listed above. You should decide ahead of time which decisions a parent can make on their own and which need approval from the other parent. It’s hard to predict what issues will come up, but give some thought to ones like those listed above.

Financial Responsibility

Your child support order should lay out responsibility for certain big items like uninsured medical expenses, unusual educational expenses, and things of that nature.

But there are other expenses that can crop up. Parents need to identify who will pay for:

  • Sports equipment. Uniforms, cleats, equipment, and travel expenses really add up. AAU is also important with young athletes and fairly expensive.

  • Musical equipment. Buying a new saxophone for your daughter? It will cost hundreds. Should you split the costs? Who will pay?

  • Restaurant meals. Typically, the parent taking the child out for a meal will pay for it. But put that down in a parenting plan to pre-empt disputes later.

Information Sharing

Information is power and a source of conflict for squabbling parents. You need to identify how you will share information:

  • What information will you share? Medical and school information are obvious candidates, but what else?

  • Must you share documentation (like report cards) or is a general summary of information enough?

  • How much time do you have to share information?

Dispute Resolution

Even the best parenting plan can’t anticipate all conflicts. You need a way to decide how to resolve disputes that will pop up. There are some options including mediation or arbitration.

Let’s say you choose family law mediation. Go into detail about how that will work: 

Dispute Resolution Options

  • Initiating Mediation: Can one parent force the other into mediation, or do both parents need to agree there's a dispute that needs resolution?

  • Mediator Selection: Who picks the mediator? There are various options, such as selecting one from a pre-approved list or having each parent choose one and then coming to an agreement on a final mediator.

  • Mediation Costs: Who pays for the mediator? Will one parent cover the entire cost, will it be split 50/50, or will the cost be divided based on income?

  • Timeline for Mediation: How soon must mediation happen after a dispute arises? Setting a timeframe can help prevent delays in resolving conflicts.

  • Impasse Resolution: How do you resolve the dispute if you can't agree at the end of the mediation process? This could involve returning to court or exploring alternative dispute resolution methods.


Parents often want to tweak the parenting plan over time. You can ask things like how will you modify the parenting plan? Do you both need to voluntarily agree to a change, or can you utilize arbitration (binding decision by a neutral third party) if you can't reach an agreement?

Conflict is Unavoidable—Get the Legal Help You Need 

With the right parenting plan, even high conflict parents can resolve disputes and co-parent harmoniously. No plan is perfect, but working with an experienced lawyer is a big help. Call Surasky Law Firm today to find out more about what information should go into a comprehensive parenting plan. Creating individualized plans is a big part of the job we do for clients seeking divorce, and we know what to include. Give us a call to schedule a meeting. 


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