A parenting plan is undoubtedly one of the most emotional parts of working toward a full Marital Settlement Agreement. Many parents may fear that their time will be unfairly restricted. Knowing what to expect before beginning to develop a plan will ease stress and help lead to a fair agreement that is in the best interest of the children and fair to each parent.
TYPE OF CUSTODY AND REASON FOR SELECTION
The first major decision to be made when entering into a parenting plan is the type of custody. Naturally, most parents would like as much time as possible with their children while still ensuring they have liberal access to the other parent. Types of custody include: sole legal and physical custody, joint legal and physical custody, joint legal custody with one parent designated the Parent of Primary Residence (PPR) and the other the Parent of Alternative Residence (PAR).
Before discussing this with your spouse or attorney it is wise to take some time to gather your thoughts and set your expectations. What is the current parenting situation? Has one parent been the primary caregiver? How will your schedule (and your spouse’s) change after the divorce? What are the children’s expectations?
Once you have answered these types of questions, set real expectations. For example, if both parents have been equally involved in parenting thus far, joint legal and physical custody is a likely outcome. Give yourself an idea of what you are willing to compromise on. When you feel ready, discuss your expectations with your spouse and mediator or attorney. You and your spouse may be on the same page, and if not your divorce mediator or attorney will guide you through the process of settlement.
This schedule is necessary to determine where the children will reside each day of the year, what contact they will have with each parent, and how the pick up and drop off will work. A typical residential schedule will set forth the parenting time of the PAR, which may include alternate weekends and weekly dinner visits. It is important to agree upon exact start and end times for the parenting time in the plan; however, these times can be changed upon verbal or written agreement of both parents. In the event that one parent is not adhering to the agreement, the executed parenting plan will be followed.
Other issues to be addressed include school and social events, activities, camps, sporting and extracurricular events, transportation, and delays in pick up and drop off. In this section you may also address the use of childcare and babysitters during the custodial parenting time and how to proceed with introducing the child to a serious significant other.
Regardless of the custody arrangement, children should have liberal access to both parents via telephone or video calls when appropriate. Decide upon what time and how often calls may be allowed.
The comprehensive parenting plan will also set forth the detailed schedule for Holidays. Each parent will have odd or even years to spend with the child for each holiday, school break, and the child’s birthday. This can be negotiated with your spouse if you wish to have parenting time every year on a certain holiday. Holidays must be defined with start and end times; for instance, Christmas Eve may be defined as 4pm to noon on Christmas day. Make sure to tell your mediator or attorney about all the holidays you celebrate.
The parenting plan will usually discuss the vacation time each parent is entitled to. The allotted vacation time is personal to each parent. The parenting plan will lay out details such as informing one another of itineraries, phone contact, and obtaining the child’s passport. With the consent of both parties’ additional vacation time may be taken even after the agreement is in effect.
MEDICAL AND SCHOOL RECORDS
Unless otherwise agreed upon, the parenting plan will entitle both parents to all medical and school information. This includes any information, documents, and communication from the child’s pediatrician, general physician, dentist, specialist, counselor, consultant attending the child, or reports or communication from any teacher or school giving instruction to the child.
This is usually broken down into two categories: day-to-day and major decisions. It is highly likely that your parenting plan will give the authority of day-to-day decisions to the parent with whom the child is residing that day. Major decisions such as those involving health, education, religion, and other important matters will almost always require consulting with one another in a joint custody arrangement, regardless of whether one parent has been given the right to make the final decision if an agreement cannot be made. The procedure for emergency decisions should also be discussed to minimize future conflict.
Familiarizing yourself with what a parenting plan entails will help you move through the divorce mediation or litigation journey with less stress. Children are the most important part of any divorce and their best interests should always be put first.