When childless couples divorce, they have a luxury that divorcing parents don’t have: they don’t have to deal with each other ever again. But parents who wish to play meaningful roles in their children’s lives have to continue interacting on a regular basis. If you do not have a well-crafted parenting plan, these interactions can be constant sources of conflict, tension, and misunderstanding.
A parenting plan or custody agreement is a document negotiated and signed by the parties that addresses both the day-to-day and big picture issues involved in raising a child. By reducing to writing how the parents will coordinate their schedules, share decision-making responsibilities, and address specific parenting issues, disagreement and acrimony between divorced parents can be somewhat reduced, at least as to child rearing issues.
The parenting plan must be tailored to the unique circumstances of each couple. This is no “one size fits all agreement.” Each agreement will vary depending on the particular facts of a case.
It is essential that all parenting plans should address these six key issues:
- Parenting time. The parenting plan should get into specific detail as to how and when each parent will spend time with the child. It should identify the days and weeks the child is to spend with each parent, as well as where and what time the child is to be dropped off and picked up.
The plan should also address parenting time and scheduling for;
- Summer, Winter, and Spring breaks
- Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays (the parents’ and the child’s), Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and other special occasions
- Unexpected circumstances and temporary changes to the schedule
- Decision-making. Every day involves making decisions that affect your child. The plan needs to make clear who has the authority to make decisions on what subjects. It needs to specify whether such choices can be made unilaterally or only with consultation and agreement between both parents.
Day-to-day decisions will usually be made by the parent who is caring for the child on any given day. As for major decisions, one party can have the authority to make such decisions (sole custody) or the parents can share the decision-making responsibility for such issues (joint custody). Major decisions include things like:
- Non-emergency healthcare
- Extra-curricular activities and camps
- Information sharing. Each parent should have the right to know what is going on with their child. The plan should make arrangements for sharing important information such as:
- Grades, test scores and educational progress
- Health issues and concerns
- Personal information such as cell phone numbers, medical records, or governmental records
- Emergency contact information
- Parental relocation. While New York law has rules and limits as to parental relocation, the plan should address these issues as well to avoid court involvement in the event that one parent wants to move for work or personal reasons.
- The plan should set rules as to how (phone, Skype, texting) and when a parent can communicate with the child when they are in the other parent’s custody.
- Mutual respect. One parent bad-mouthing the other in front of their child or trying to sabotage the relationship between the child and their former spouse is destructive and counterproductive. The parties should agree that they will refrain from negative comments or conduct towards each other.
If you have questions or concerns regarding parenting plan, child custody, or any other matters relating to divorce, please give us a call at (212) 683-9551 of fill out our online form to arrange for a consultation. We look forward to assisting you.