What is a Step Up Parenting Plan?

Step Up Parenting Plan

What is a Step Up Parenting Plan?

What is a Step Up Parenting Plan?

Divorce and separation affects all children, but is especially tough on younger children, who are not accustomed to being away from a primary caretaker.  The primary caretaker also benefits from a partner who can help with parenting – when the partner leaves, the child also loses the benefits of that partnership.

Parenting changes as children age.  Newborns may be more attached to their mothers, but the attachment may switch to fathers at the birth of a new sibling.

As children develop, they will often form bonds with both parents.  These bonds must be protected.

The solution? Step up parenting plan.

A Step Up Parenting plan allows a younger child to slowly become familiar with the non primary parent and increases time with that parent as they get more accustomed to being in their care.

Focus on Children’s Best Interests

Focus on Children’s Best Interests.  In a contentious divorce, often the parents are so focused on “what’s fair” and “getting exactly 50-50”.  While with property this can be understandable, it won’t work when we discuss children.

Think in Terms of “Parenting Time and Responsibility”, not “Custody”

In my experience, divorce attorneys can dispel the “myth of 50/50” by gently focusing their clients on parenting time and responsibility.

Children benefit from having two (2) involved parents, who put aside their differences to focus on their well-being.


For example, if parents separate when child is less than 1 years old, there will be different considerations then when the child is school-aged, such as 11 years old.  A breastfeeding baby will need to spend more time with the mother than the father.

If parents separate when the child is 1, an immediate 50/50 plan will NOT work.  Many times, a father who does not have good representation will erroneously believe that if 50/50 isn’t commenced right away, he will “lose custody” in the long run.

This is wrong thinking and a lawyer must rewire their thinking.  It is highly recommended that the attorney representing the father be familiar with the basic framework of child development.  Or, work with a mental health professional or a parenting plan coordinator to reasonably counsel the father.

Slow and Steady

A good step up plan focuses on the child’s development and will encourage bonding with both parents with each stage.

For example, with a breastfeeding infant, you can have a sample plan where baby is father 3 periods of 3-6 hours each (in between feedings) throughout the week.

The initial parenting plan will continue until solids are introduced, or feedings are less frequent.  Then you can increase the periods, or the duration of the visits.

Increasing Time

Step up plans decrease stress and anxiety in young children.  Each step is taken slowly and after bonds form.  The next step is only taken after current step is in compliance and successfully working.  This takes careful planning and parties working together.

In the previous example, once the baby has demonstrated bonding and comfort in the father’s visits of 3 periods of 3-6 hours each, you can explore a step up.

In order to move to the next step, the current step must be complied with and working successfully.

Concerns with Fairness and Equal Time

Many fathers will initially express reservations about not getting 50/50 right away.  This is understandable, especially if the relationship is high-conflict.  Thus, it is imperative that specific language is built into the parenting plan to protect the step-up plans.

Concerns with Ability of Parent

Many mothers will also express reservations because the early years are focused on mother-child (especially true in attachment parenting).  The early years of parenting are very tough on a nursing mother – not just due to lack of sleep, but the sheer physical exhaustion of pregnancy followed by breastfeeding.  Many are suffering post-partum depression and anxiety.

If separation occurs during this fragile period, a high-conflict battle ensues which destroys the child.  During this time, mental health professionals are more necessary than litigious attorneys.  The court system is not equipped to consider the nuances of emotional pains.

The actions of the mother is crucial to the success of the step up parenting plan.

I usually recommend counseling for mothers who have difficulty encouraging coparenting because they feel abandoned by their partner during their time of need.

There is no One-Size-Fits-All Parenting Plan

Every child is different.  Every family is different.  While there are many good guidelines of what is recommended at every age and stage of child development, only the parents can decide what’s best for their child.  Attached are some good articles to help you.

Age Appropriate Parenting Plans

Should Your Infant Spend the Night

Consensus infants and young children

How to Share Custody

ABA Parenting Plan

Sample Parenting Plans By Age

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