Often times when an individual comes in to see me for an initial consultation they have preconceived notions about family law. This is most often true when dealing with minor children. The term custody almost always is brought up when discussing the minor children and their relationship with each of the parents. They are often surprised to learn that the term “custody” is no longer a term that is used in this state. Neither parent will be awarded “custody” of their minor child(ren).
Instead, each parent’s rights and obligations will be contained in a document titled “Parenting Plan”. This is a multi-page form that contains all necessary information concerning the parent’s rights and responsibilities going forward. It is, in essence, a “default document”, which should be referenced if there is ever a dispute. Judges will generally tell the parents that it is their hope that this document will be put away in a drawer and only reviewed if necessary to resolve a conflict. A Parenting Plan must be filed when there are minor children involved. The provisions will either be agreed to by the parents or if no agreement can be reached, it will be up to a judge to decide these issues.
The Parenting Plan will establish the Court’s jurisdiction over the minor children. It will specify the type of parental responsibility that will be exercised by the parents. In most cases, the parents will have “shared parental responsibility”, which gives each equal decision making concerning significant issues in a child’s life. This does not include day to day decisions, which will be made by the parent who has the child(ren) on their particular day. In very limited circumstances one parent may have sole parental responsibility and decision making. This occurs when one of the parents has exhibited behavior which proves that shared parental responsibility is not in a child’s best interests.
The Plan will also state which parent’s address will be used for purposes of school registration. This can sometimes be a difficult issue to resolve, especially when the parents have equal time-sharing. In some cases, the parents agree that the child(ren) will go to the best-rated school in either parent’s school boundary.
Of course, the Plan will also state the time-sharing schedule for each parent. This includes regular weekly time-sharing, summer vacation, winter break, spring break, and holiday time sharing. Some parents want every holiday listed and others may only want “major holidays” such as Thanksgiving and New Year’s.
Other issues that are contained within the Parenting Plan include travel outside of the state and outside of the United States. Pick up and drop off responsibilities. Extra-curricular activities for the child(ren) and financial contribution from each parent.
The goal in each case to have the parents come to an agreement as to how to raise their child(ren) and memorialize it in this document. Judges would much prefer that the parents make these decisions and not the courts.