What Provisions Should Be Included in a Parenting Plan?

This Week’s Blog by Nicole M. DiGiose.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A Parenting Plan is a document, usually in the form of an agreement, that addresses child-related issues, such as legal custody and a parental access schedule. In the absence of an agreed-upon Parenting Plan, a Court will determine a Parenting Plan that it believes is in the child(ren)’s best interests.

 When does a Parenting Plan need to be Submitted to the Court?

 A proposed Parenting Plan must be submitted to the Court on or before the Case Management Date, which is approximately ninety days after filing an action for dissolution of marriage. If parenting issues are disputed at the time of the Case Management Date, the parties are required to appear in Court and may be ordered to meet with a Family Relations counselor.

 What is Legal Custody?

Legal custody is the power to make decisions for a minor child(ren). Such decisions include the child(ren)’s health, education, religion, and welfare. Legal custody may be shared jointly, awarded to one parent only after good faith consultation with the other parent, or awarded solely to one parent without good faith consultation. A Parenting Plan must set forth how legal custody is shared and typically includes a definition of legal custody.

What is a Parenting Coordinator?

A Parenting Coordinator, or “P.C.,” is an individual who may be engaged by parents to help them communicate better, make decisions on behalf of their child(ren), and resolve disputes. P.C.s are generally mental health professionals or social workers. P.C.s are not judges and cannot make binding decisions—they can, however, make recommendations. Often, parents will elect to include a provision about a P.C. in their Parenting Plan. These provisions typically require both parents to meet with a P.C. in an attempt to resolve any parenting dispute before submitting the matter to a Court.

 What is a Regular Parental Access Schedule?

A regular parental access schedule sets forth when each parent will parent the child(ren) during non-holiday and vacation time. It is the day-to-day schedule. A regular parental access schedule is not “one size fits all” and will vary from family to family.

 What is a Holiday and Vacation Schedule?

 A holiday and vacation schedule sets forth all holidays that are celebrated by a family and delineates how they are shared. Parents often elect to alternate holidays such that one parent has parenting time in even-numbered years and the other parent has parenting time in odd-numbered years. Parents may also elect to assign a specific holiday to one parent in every year. A holiday and vacation schedule also addresses summer vacation. Parents will typically select a number of weeks, consecutive or non-consecutive, that each parent will have during the summer.

 What Other Provisions Should be Included?

 Parenting Plans almost always contain non-disparagement language. They should also address notice provisions with respect to travel, as well as provisions related to the attendance of medical appointments, school conferences, extracurricular activities, and the introduction of new significant others.

 What is a Right of First Refusal?

Some parents elect to include a Right of First Refusal in their Parenting Plan. If a parent is unavailable to parent the child(ren) for a certain number of hours on his or her parenting time, he or she must give the other parent the option of parenting the child(ren) before he or she engages a childcare provider. If the non-scheduled parent is also unavailable, then the scheduled parent is typically responsible for the cost of any necessary childcare. The number of hours will vary from family to family. Four to six waking hours are common.

 What if my Spouse has issues with Drugs or Alcohol?

 Drug and alcohol testing may be included in a Parenting Plan. If one or both parents are struggling with substance abuse, he or she may be required to submit to drug or alcohol testing. A testing protocol, including the frequency of tests, will be delineated in the Parenting Plan. Said protocol will also include consequences in the case of a missed or positive test. If the parent struggling with substance abuse issues is able to achieve a certain level of sobriety, his or her parenting time may be expanded upon his or her reaching certain milestones.

Can Parenting Plans be Modified?

 Yes. Parenting Plans may be modified if there has been a material change of circumstances which alters a Court’s finding of the best interests of the child(ren) or a finding that the original order sought to be modified was not based upon the best interests of the child(ren).

At Broder & Orland LLC, we understand the sensitive nature of parenting issues in a divorce or custody dispute in Connecticut. Our skilled attorneys will guide you through the process of crafting a Parenting Plan that is consistent with your minor child(ren)’s best interests.