The term "Parenting Plan" may sound dreadful to some because it may bring about a sense of failure. Many people think once a parenting plan is necessary, you can no longer work together as parents for the best interest of your children - which is why you should think of a parenting plan as setting the expectations for your children and each other - not as something that signifies a breakdown in your relationship.
What is a "Parenting Plan"?
A parenting plan is an agreement regarding the schedule, care, custody, and control of your minor children. Parenting plans usually address holidays and special days, exchange times, methods of exchange, child support, special considerations, and the rights of each parent.
Every parent has a parenting plan in one form or another, particularly if your parenting decisions include input from the other parent. Parenting is hard enough when bound together in matrimony and under the same roof - but another challenge presents itself when there is more than one home that is trying to raise the same child, even if both parents agree on education and medical decisions.
Why should you have a Parenting Plan?
Parenting plans reflect forward planning and conflict prevention. The most important aspect of a parenting plan is that it works for all parties involved. Parents can agree on any number of items, and these can all be set out and accounted for in your parenting plan. In more extreme cases, having your parenting plan signed by the court may make the plan enforceable by the legal system and law enforcement.
How are Parenting Plans made?
Parenting plans start with a conversation. In its simplest form, a parenting plan is an agreement (whether written or spoken) between parents as to how they are going to share their time and decision-making responsibilities. Many parents just "go with the flow" and exchange the child "whenever they want." If that works and everyone is happy, excellent!
Other parents write down a schedule so everyone knows what to expect. This is actually a parenting plan that could be filed and enforced by the courts. It can be as ambiguous or as complex as the parties wish. The best parenting plans are made and agreed upon by each parent and then brought to the court.
How are Parenting Plans Filed in Court?
Some parents fear being labeled as uncooperative if the court is involved. It is often these folks who wish they would have gotten their parenting plan in writing and filed before something they thought was already agreed upon and working stops being effective. It is much easier to plan in the event of a breakdown in communication than to backtrack after the disagreement has already spiraled out of control.
Just as any action with the courts begins, each parenting plan starts with a summons and complaint. This is off-putting to some, but is simply the way the parents must start an action with the court. This process can be done with the help of an attorney. You may not even have to meet your attorney face-to-face, let alone go to court. In fact, if both parties can agree, all that is usually required is the summons, a complaint, admission/certificate of service, a parenting plan signed and notarized by both parties, and the court's signature. If you live in Lincoln County or Minnehaha County, the court will also require you to participate in the SMILE program - a class designed to encourage peaceful parenting.
To read Part 2 of this article - click here