P is for Parenting Plan.

Proceeding with our back to basics series, we now arrive at the letter “P”, which highlights the topic of Parenting Plans, an often overlooked (yet crucial) document.

In family court matters where child custody and/or parenting time are genuine and substantial issues, the case will initially be referred to mediation. The court hopes that parents can resolve their disputes themselves with the assistance of a court-mediator. Unfortunately, parents in the midst of a tumultuous relationship or a divorce situation may be unsuccessful in working out child custody and parenting disputes in mediation. Under those circumstances, the children’s custody and parenting issues will be referred back to the judge assigned to the case to adjudicate the dispute

To assist the court to better understand the nature of the disagreement, New Jersey Court Rule 5:8-5 provides that if the parents are unable to reach an agreement as to custody and parenting time, each party must file a Custody and Parenting Time/Visitation Plan (“Parenting Plan”). The court will consider what each parent states in their Parenting Plan when fixing a parenting time schedule and otherwise determining parenting disputes. The Parenting Plan must be filed no later than 75 days from the last responsive pleading filed in the case, or, in cases that were referred to mediation, no later than 14 days following unsuccessful mediation.

Each party’s Parenting Plan will provide the court with critical information. For instance, the Parenting Plan must contain the parties’ addresses, so the court can understand how proximate each party’s residence is from the other and where the residences are with respect to the children’s schools. The Parenting Plan is to state the employment of the parties, so it can consider the distance of each parent’s workplace from their home, and to have a basic understanding of each party’s work responsibilities.

Critically, each parenting plan is to state the party’s position as to the type of custody they are requesting and the reasons for selecting this type of custody. The different custody options are (a) joint legal custody with one parent having primary residential care; (b) joint physical custody; (c) sole custody to one parent, parenting time/visitation to the other; of (d) another custodial arrangement.

Parenting Plans are also to state the specific schedule as to parenting time, including on weeknights, weekends, vacations, holidays, vacations, and special occasions. Normally, this type of schedule maps out how custody will work within a typical week or two-week segment, and then include a holiday, special occasion component that will control over the standard schedule. In some cases, parties have different parenting time arrangements during the school year, versus during breaks from school.

Finally, Parenting Plans are also to state to what extent each parent should have access to a child’s school and medical records, the impact of if there is a contemplated change of residence of a parent, and discuss to what extent the parties are to participate in decision-making for a child. Any other pertinent information should also be included in a Parenting Plan, so the judge has an much information possible in making critical decisions about child custody and parenting time.

As with many issues that come up in family court, the preparation of a Parenting Plan in the context of contested custody litigation can be complex, fact-sensitive, and difficult for someone who is not well versed in the process. If you have a family law issue where child custody or parenting time is a concern, the attorneys at Ulrichsen Rosen & Freed LLC can help you to prepare an effective Parenting Plan that helps to settle this kind of issue as quickly and painlessly as possible, while promoting the best interests of your children.