If you’re writing a proposed parenting plan for your divorce or child custody case, now is time to consider and effectively address issues affecting child custody and child support. Take the time necessary to discuss with your lawyer all your hypothetical scenarios so you can work with your lawyer in drafting solutions for any imagined potential problems. You may even want to take the time to discuss these same scenarios with the other parent propose potential solutions to see if they would be agreed upon. Your parenting plan is the authority on custody and support when you and the other parent are not getting along. So, make sure you submit a thorough and well thought out plan to the Court, as you may need to enforce the plan if you and the other parent are unable to resolve disagreements as they arise.
Here are 10 things to consider when drafting your proposed parenting plan.
1. Communication with the other parent.
The first consideration is how you want to communicate with the other parent. If you only choose to communicate in person or by phone, then you won’t have any written proof of agreements reached for a change in the custody schedule or the extracurricular activity to enroll your child in and how it will be paid. Consider whether you can effectively communicate matters that need proof in writing by text message or email. If you have a high conflict relationship with the other parent or simply want one place for all communications including financial reimbursements for uncovered medical and extracurricular expenses, you should consider using a parent communication app such as Our Family Wizard. The second consideration is how frequently you and the other parent are likely to communicate and whether you need to set expectations. If expectations are needed, then state how often you’d like to be in contact (minimums or maximums), the issues about which you do or don’t want to consult (e.g., playdates), and how promptly you expect responses.
2. Extracurricular activities.
The first consideration is addressing your child’s current activities. At this point in time, prior to the entry of a parenting plan, does your child have an activity — like select sports, science camp, horseback riding, music lessons, dance, or religious instruction — that you want them to continue? If so, list those activities in the parenting plan along with specifics on who will transport them to and from the activity and who will pay. If you don’t wish to support one of your child’s activities, specify whether your child may continue in that activity if the other parent pays for the activity and provides all the transportation. The second consideration is addressing your child’s future activities. Make sure to state that all agreements must be in writing and specify how much each parent is to be paid for those activities that are agreed to in writing.
If you and the other parent are awarded joint legal custody, you will need to confer and agree on major medical decisions for your child. The COVID-19 pandemic made the choice of having a child vaccinated a public debate. Do you want your child to receive vaccines that are recommended by his or her pediatrician? Does the other parent agree with your perspective? If so, then state your beliefs and values in the parenting plan to avoid future conflicts. If not, then consider whether you need a tiebreaker provision on how to resolve conflicts that may arise for future vaccinations.
Are you using work-related childcare today? How long will you need work-related childcare? What childcare will you need during the summer? How will work-related childcare be paid by you and the other parent? What about childcare outside of working hours? Do you and the other parent expect to be informed of, and agree upon, any babysitters you may hire in the future? Or will you allow each other to choose your own babysitters during your own parenting time? Or do you have an expectation that a parent needing a babysitter should as the other parent first before seeking a babysitter?
Will you and the other parent allow the same devices, use the same parental controls, and enforce the same limits on screen time? Why is this important? Sometimes one parent wants to buy a child a new iPhone or iPad while the other parent wants to take away those devices as a punishment for bad behavior. Plan for whether you will make these decisions together or separately. With middle and high school children completing homework through a computer or needing a smartphone at school, consider how your child’s homework needs will change as they get older. Also, consider how your child is communicating with friends and whether the use of these devices is essential to maintaining those relationships.
6. What are the child’s belongings
A favorite blanket or stuffed animal might go back and forth with a small child. An older child must have their school backpack go back and forth. But what about large or expensive items, like musical instruments, sports equipment, or laptop or iPad? Will you and the other parent shuttle these items back and forth? If not, will you buy a duplicate item, so you never have to move them? Or will your child be deprived of the item until he or she returns to the parent who keeps them? What are your overall expectations about items you purchased? If you buy clothes for your child, do you expect the clothes to be kept at your house and only worn on your custody days?
This is often ignored but can become an issue in the future as parents enter new relationships. When will grandparents spend time with your child? Do you expect that the other grandparent’s time occur during the other parent’s custody time? This would be the normal expectation. Do you need to state that in your parenting plan?
8. Preventing certain individuals from contact with your child
Are there friends or family members that are major concerns for you? Unfortunately, sometimes there is a person in your child’s life that presents such a concern. Is there any person whose presence should be restricted or altogether banned? Do you and the other parent agree on this? If so, does it need to be set forth in the parenting plan?
Are you worried about specific safety issues in the other parent’s house? For example, do you want the other parent to explicitly agree to lock up guns, store their liquor in a locked cabinet, not allow your child to use the trampoline in the backyard without supervision, or use the neighborhood swimming pool without a parent being present. Some of these may seem obvious but do you and the other parent agree on these parent safety decisions?
10. Anything else unique to your child
You may have your own ideas for other provisions that are relevant to your child’s unique circumstances. Do you and the other parent agree on these provisions? Focus on what’s important to your child. If you are able to express those agreements or values and set expectations in the parenting plan, you can reduce disappointment and stress later on when a decision has to be made.
Should you need the advice of an experienced divorce and child custody attorney or have questions or concerns about your situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those issues with you.