Parenting Plans – How to Negotiate and How to Draft
Creating an effective parenting plan in a divorce takes forethought and a solid understanding of family law to know what make up a good plan. Some preliminary thoughts to consider are:
Choosing: Most courts uphold a biological parent’s right to raise their child as he/she sees fit. This isn’t an unlimited right since there are obviously life choices and lifestyles that could be harmful to a child, which is why #2 is so important.
Interests of the Child: The overriding criteria most courts will use when examining a parenting plan are the “best interests of the child.” Different jurisdictions have their own standards, but there is amazing commonality among most courts:
The mental and physical health of the child
The mental and physical health of the parents
Parents’ ability to adequately address the needs of the child.
The thoughts, feelings and reasonable preferences of the child, based on their age and level of maturity.
Stability in the home environment
Siblings or other children whose custody and circumstances are relevant to the child.
The child’s school and adjustment to their community
Any history of abuse or domestic violence in the home
Any history of drug abuse or alcohol abuse.
Key Terminology. It’s important to understand some of the key terms in a parenting plan because not all language is completely clear or means what you might think on a first reading.
Legal custody. This governs primarily the relationship between the two parents and how they will be allowed or required to interact. Legal custody can be “sole” meaning only one parent has the right to make most decisions about the day to day life of the child. Legal Custody can also be “joint”, meaning the parents must discuss and agree on most aspects of the child’s life.
Physical custody: This governs where a child lives, visitation and where the child might call “home.” Several types of physical custody exist: “Primary” physical custody means that the child spends most of their time with that parent, attends school where that parent resides, with contact with the other parent on a schedule. “Shared” or “Joint” physical custody is where both parents share significant time with the child and often agree to a rotation with the child spending stretches of time with each parent.
Some Key Points to Consider in Drafting a Parenting Plan
Who will have legal custody of the child? In many cases it is permissible to share joint legal custody if there is good and clear communication between the parents. It is more rare to have sole legal custody.
Who will have physical custody? Where will the child live and spend most of his/her time? Will it serve the best interests of the child to live in one home or the other?
Other important items to consider might be: parents work schedules, the extra-curricular activities of the child, special programs at school, doctors and other medical needs of the child.