The Gainesville Child Custody Attorneys of the Law Office of Alba & Straile, PLLC know the importance of carefully drafting parenting plans. Far too often, we see parents that come to us with issues or concerns over an existing parenting plan that was drafted improperly and/or without the assistance of an experienced attorney. It is unfortunate when one or both parents rush through the process of plan development in an effort to achieve closure as quickly as possible, without understanding the potential consequences of impetuous decision making.
Just a few considerations are:
- General Decision-Making Authority. This involves deciding which parent can make major decisions regarding the welfare of the child. In cases of shared parental responsibility, the parents can either: (1) confer with one another and jointly make decisions pertaining to the child; or (2) delegate decision-making authority on specific issues (i.e. education, health care).
- Day-to-Day Decisions. These decisions are typically made by the parent that has actual physical custody of the child on a particular day. However, the parents should consider day-to-day decisions in conjunction with major decision-making authority, to avoid potential disputes in the future. [Note: Generally, either parent can make decisions on an emergency basis when necessary to protect the child’s health or safety].
- Caregiving for school-age children (during breaks or absences): Parents should consider all breaks, including winter, spring, and summer breaks, as well as what will occur on other weekdays the child will not be in school, based upon the yearly calendar of the school the child is attending, religious holidays that the family observes, or other factor(s). In well-drafted parenting plans, the parents will also set forth a plan as to when and how they will deal with breaks and absences at the beginning of each school year, including what to do if they are unable to agree.
- Special Days. In addition to breaks from school, it is important to consider holidays, taking into consider religious factors, as well as each parent’s personal preferences, and traditional, customary or anticipated occurrences on a specific day. Most parenting plans will alternate holidays, however, they parents agree to handle certain days in a different manner. Special days should be carefully considered when drafting parent plans, included the potential for holiday travel, as well the possibility of splitting a particular day between parents. See also, ‘Child Custody and Holidays.’
- Records, Reports, and Information Regarding Child(ren): For example, medical and educational records. In some cases, one parent will agree to provide certain information upon request, however the better approach is to ensure that both parents have equal access to all information pertaining the child (i.e. signing necessary release documents, listing both parents as ‘emergency contacts’).
- Extra-Curricular Activities: This includes not only current activities, but also any future activities that the child will or may participate in. In the very least, the parenting plan should address: (1) parental permission for activity participation; (2) expenses (costs; uniforms; equipment); (3) parental attendance (i.e. which parent can attend specific events, particularly if a domestic violence issue limits the parents’ contact with another, but also in cases where alternating events is best to avoid conflict); (4) transportation to and from events; and (5) related responsibilities to facilitate child’s activity (i.e. ensuring items the child will need are kept with the child or provided to other parent; encouraging practice and supporting child’s involvement in activity).
- Exchange of Child. While this may seem fairly straightforward, the exchange of child should be considered by parents—not only in cases where the parents have experienced prior conflict or anticipate future conflict during exchange, but also in cases where the parents feel that exchange will not be an issue in the future. The parenting plans should consider precisely when and where the exchange will occur, as well as what the child will have in his or her possession upon exchange, and which parent will bear transportation costs (if applicable).
- Communications with Child. Regardless of the time-sharing schedule, many parents often wish to have the option to remain in contact with their child during periods of time when they do not have physical custody, whether by phone, email, text message, video conferencing, or other electronic communication. Regular communication between child and parent is encouraged whenever it is in the child’s best interest.
- Education. Where the child will attend public school, based upon the residences of each parent, as well as the custodial arrangement. Some cases require additional terms if the child will be home-schooled or attend private school. Parents should also consider including terms regarding higher-education for the child, keeping in mind related terms set forth in the marital settlement agreement, if any.
- Tax Credits and Exemption. Typically the parents will set for the specific number of overnights that the child will spend with each parent, which can assist parents in determining which parent is entitled to a child-related deduction or credit. However, the more practical approach is to use the parenting plan as an opportunity to address tax issues ahead of time. See also, ‘Dependency Exemption and Child Tax Credit.’
Perhaps the most crucial consideration in drafting parenting plans, is what to do in the event of unexpected change, or parental disagreement. In some cases, parents will choose to incorporate general terms regarding how issues will be resolved if conflict arises—or if deviating from the parenting plan is otherwise necessary. For some parents, this approach works. However, parents should consider the advantages of evaluating change/conflict within each individual issue, including those provided above and any other matter that is addressed in the parenting plan. In other words, parents should fully assess whether they are actually able to ‘confer and agree’ when disputes arise, regardless of the issue at hand.
Carefully constructing a well-thought-out parenting plan is critical to establishing structure and maintaining long-term stability for you and your children. For many parents, Family Mediation can offer a means of reaching resolution over disputes regarding parental responsibilities and decisions. While parties are often represented by attorneys during the mediation process, this method is far less-adversarial, and can give the parties an opportunity to resolve issues on their own, rather than leave the decision to the court. However, the ability for parents to develop their own parenting plan—whether through conference, negotiation, or mediation—depends on the willingness of each party to reach agreement. In some cases, pursuing further action is the better approach to ensuring the protection of your legal rights as parent.
While we understand your desire to resolve issues as quickly as possible, it is important to take the time to ensure that your parenting plan sufficiently addresses each and every necessary issue. If you are contemplating divorce, or are involved in a dispute over the custody or parental responsibility of a minor child, it is helpful to have some guidance as to what types of issues are most commonly included within parenting plans, so that you can be prepared ahead of time. Contact Alba & Straile P.A.—we can help.