A well written parenting plan can save you and your children from being involved in ongoing disputes. A parenting plan may be agreed to by the parties or decided by the court. In either case, it is enforceable by court order. However, what is being enforced? If the language is not clear, disagreements can be inevitable.
What is included in a parenting plan?
A parenting plan provides for who has custody (makes major decisions). It also provides a parenting time schedule for the school year, the summer months, and holidays, as well as for special occasions. It can also include other requirements, such as what is required if a parent travels, what are the rules regarding parenting time, including transporting the child, pick up and drop off locations, no shows and make ups, scheduling of children’s activities, telephone calls, smoking or drinking while having parenting time, and many other matters.
Child Custody: The court can order sole or joint custody. With sole custody, one parent makes the major decisions pertaining to religion and education, as well as medical, dental, vision and mental health care. With joint custody, both parents must agree upon these major decisions. If you plan to share joint custody with the other parent, you will want to consider whether or not reaching agreements together is feasible. The parties’ previous involvement with the children and whether or not they were able to reach important decisions together will help determine what will work best in the future. If the parties do not agree upon joint custody, the court will not order it, but the court will then have to decide which parent should be awarded custody.
Custody does not allow one party to decide everything. It does not allow one party to determine what the other party does during their parenting time by scheduling the child’s activities during the other party’s parenting time. If something is important to you, you can include it in your parenting plan, as long as the other party agrees or the court orders it. If activities are to be scheduled during the other parent’s parenting time, it is important to reach agreements. Each family is different. It is important to think about what is going to matter for each parent and the children to make sure the parenting plan is workable. If the parenting plan does not address important matters or is unclear, disagreements can arise and it may be necessary to return to the court for a resolution. Planning ahead will go a long way to prevent this unnecessary stress and expense.
Schedule. Having a detailed schedule is important. A parenting time schedule requires some thought and whether or not it is appropriate can change based upon a change in circumstances, such as a parent’s work schedule or a child’s school schedule. When the parents have different religions, different holidays for each religion may conflict and this will need to be worked out in advance. Addressing parenting time exchanges is also important so that one parent is not providing all or most of the transportation, which with the cost of gas, can really add up. If a child is in school, it may be easiest to exchange the child at school. One parent drops off the child before school starts at the end of their parenting time and the other parents picks the child up after school or daycare at the beginning of their parenting time. This may work well, except when there is no school on the day of the exchange.
A simple statement about when and where the exchange is to occur when there is no school can be very helpful. For parents who don’t want to see each other or who tend to argue when they see each other, curbside drop offs may be a good option for a child old enough to walk to the door of the other parent’s home.
A parenting plan may not be able to cover every circumstance that arises, but it can go a long way to alleviate opportunities for disagreement. A family law attorney will be able to assist you in thinking through what is needed in your parenting plan. Details are important and take time to think through. A parenting plan can be modified through the courts, if needed, as circumstances change, but the last thing you want to have to do is go back to court for clarification purposes when a parenting plan leaves too much to the imagination.