For a divorcing parent, creating a well-crafted parenting plan may well be the most significant part of the divorce process. In many states, child custody law requires parents to submit a parenting plan prior to the court’s determination of custody.
Having an experienced, highly skilled, and compassionate family law attorney to help with this task is invaluable because the parenting plan is a legal document. It concerns not only custody and visitation but also provides detailed information about how your child will be raised.
Once completed, the parenting plan will act as a solid foundation that helps everyone know what to expect going forward. Having everything in writing makes for clarity and helps to avoid a large number of potential disputes. Your attorney will have templates to help you understand precisely what questions must be answered to construct a viable parenting plan. There are also templates of parenting plans available online.
What Effective Parenting Plans Include
Since states have differing requirements for parenting plans, it is important to have a lawyer who is familiar with the laws of your state. In most cases, the following issues are addressed in the parenting plan:
Most often held by both parents, legal custody allows each to make legal decisions for the child regarding such things as physical and mental health care, education, and religion. Both parents (except in unusual circumstances) will also have access to the child’s school and medical records.
Physical custody establishes where the child will reside after the divorce and details about how joint custody will work or how visitation will be scheduled if sole custody is awarded.
Health care concerns
Healthcare concerns include measures such as vaccinations, mental health care, and medical insurance.
Public or private education
Education decisions, both in public and private education, must be agreed upon, as well as how private education, if chosen, will be paid for.
Religion and/or religious instruction
Religion can be a significant choice for many families, and any religious instruction must also be financed.
Participation in extracurricular activities
Extracurricular activities like team sports, participation in music, theatre, other arts, chess club, computer activities, etc. also involve decisions about time, transportation, and expense.
Safety and well-being of the child
Safety and well-being of the child may include spelling out which situations are considered detrimental or dangerous to the child, for example, exposure to alcohol or substance abuse, weapons, inappropriate or dangerous sexual, criminal, or risk-taking behavior.
Higher Education Expenses
Assuming the parents want to fund their child’s higher education, they will need a plan on how college expenses will be handled.
Dealing with the Relocation of a Parent
Whether the parents have joint custody or not, a parent’s relocation is bound to create upheaval for the child and difficulties relative to the expenses of travel in terms of joint custody or visitation. Discussion of this possibility, even if it seems far-fetched, will go a long way to protecting the child from being unsettled or traumatized in the future.
Advantages of Having a Workable Parenting Plan
You will find that having a proper parenting plan can make divorced life much easier and more pleasant by:
- Minimizing disagreements and conflicts about custodial and visitation schedules
- Smoothing financial snags by spelling out the specifics of child support amounts, and deciding who will pay medical, educational, childcare, religious, and/or extracurricular expenses
- Addressing safety concerns is particularly helpful if the parents have differing views of which activities are too risky for the child
- Making transfers of the child from one parent to another go smoothly by detailing how specific holidays and school vacations will be handled
- Paving the way for handling new situations that arise after the divorce is finalized, for example by deciding whether further disputes will be mediated or arbitrated and detailing how child custody, visitation, or child support modifications will be arranged
What is especially helpful about the parenting plan is that it is a legal document, not a list or suggestions, and therefore can be enforced to override conflicting opinions. This is why it’s essential for a knowledgeable parenting plan attorney to review it carefully before you sign it.
Mistakes to Avoid When Creating a Parenting Plan
When engaging in an activity you haven’t done before, it is always good to have the advice of someone more familiar with the task. This is one of the reasons it is so important to have a well-seasoned child custody lawyer guide you through this process. A competent lawyer will keep you from:
- Creating a plan that is too vague to protect your interests or the interests of your child
- Creating a plan that is overly specific, not leaving room for flexibility if circumstances change
- Neglecting to put restrictions on travel, whether interstate or international of either parent with the child
- Leaving out provisions about how to handle unexpected future problems
The last item is notable because one thing we can all agree on is that no matter how well-defined your plan is, it has to leave room for the changes life inevitably brings.
Factors the Court Will Consider When Assessing Your Parenting Plan
You, your co-parent, and your child custody attorneys will not be the only individuals checking out your parenting plan. If your divorce is litigated, there will also be a judge overseeing it. Among factors the judge will take note of when evaluating your parenting plan are:
- Your child’s age and maturity level
- Each parent’s financial resources
- Each parent’s physical and emotional health
- Each parent’s proximity to the child’s school, religious organizations, and activities
- Each parent’s proximity to extended family, such as grandparents
- Whether either parent plans to leave the area in the near future
- Each parent’s custody preferences
- The child’s custody preferences (if the child is sufficiently mature)
- Legal trouble or misconduct by either parent
- History of visitation interference by either parent
In some cases, each parent can prepare a plan to present in court and the judge will decide which plan most closely fits the child’s needs. The judge may make alterations to the selected plan if it is deemed necessary. Your attorney will advise you to make a parenting plan with or without the other parent because if you don’t and your child’s other parent does, the judge will likely choose a plan you did not participate in creating.
Having a well-conceived and well-executed parenting plan is an essential part of your divorce if you have one or more children. Consulting with a well-informed parenting plan attorney before taking this vital step is crucial in determining what life will be like for your child in the new family constellation.