Crafting An Effective Parenting Plan
A divorce or separation is hard on everyone. The marriage may be over, but being a parent is forever. Although the situation is challenging, kids and adults alike are resilient and adaptable. A clearly defined child custody agreement can help everyone involved to weather the storm while maintaining healthy relationships.
A typical custody arrangement sets forth the schedules, living arrangements and primary decision-making processes that involve co-parenting children. If a dispute occurs, a good parenting plan offers the structure needed to help the parents remain in agreement.
New Jersey Parenting Plans
In New Jersey, parenting plans must be completed, agreed upon, and signed by both parents before the court will grant a divorce.
For parents who are unable to come to terms, assistance is available from a State of New Jersey mediation program or with the help of a lawyer or qualified mental health professional.
If the parents still can't agree on a workable custody plan, the court will have no choice but to impose one. Typically, this only happens after a custody trial and a family evaluation by one or more mental health professionals.
Visitation Versus Custody
According to New Jersey law, the court makes all visitation and custody decisions in the child's best interests. For most parents, that means an equally shared custody and visitation agreement. An exception would only be made if one of the parents was found to be abusive or neglectful.
What Is Custody?
Custody is based on where the children live and who has the authority to make decisions on their behalf. The parent with whom the kids spend most of their time is the custodial parent. The other parent is granted set visitation times. Visitation time can only be removed or restricted under exceptional circumstances.
The parent who is granted visitation rights must pay financial support to the custodial parent to help with the costs of raising the children. The closer to equal custody the parents are, the less likely the non-custodial parent will have to pay child support.
Determining A Schedule
An ideal parenting plan offers both parents ample time with all the children. If parents lack a parenting plan, they are more likely to settle future disputes in court.
Generally speaking, parents are free to set up unique custody and visitation schedules that mesh with their lifestyles. The court will only intervene if the parents cannot reach an agreement together. If that happens, the court will determine the schedules based on a standard visitation plan that is in the best interests of each child.
All parenting plans are not equal. Some are simple and straightforward. Others are complicated. As long as the parents are in agreement about the terms, the court will agree as well. If a custody plan is not harmful to the children and works for the parents, it will most likely be approved by the court.
What Should A Parenting Plan Include?
Here are the basics of a good parenting plan. The more complete the plan, the more likely the court is to approve it.
- Primary residence of each child
- Financial support agreement
- Legal and physical custody arrangements
- Daily, holiday and vacation visitation schedules
- Medical and health care decisions
- Shared rights and responsibilities
- Potential parent relocation
- Information-sharing between parents
- Introducing new dating partners
- Religious considerations
- Child care and babysitting arrangements
- Special needs services
- College expenses
- Dietary considerations
- Procedure to change the parenting plan
- Settlement process for future disputes
Is A Custody Plan Legally Binding?
The plan is legally binding only after it is filed with the courts and executed by a judge.
Can The Plan Be Amended?
If you and your partner cannot agree on the proposed amendment, the parent who wants the amendment must show the court that the action is in the child's best interests.
Custody Plan Modifications
If the parents wish to modify an existing parenting plan, they can do so as long as they agree. No rules exist about making changes in the visitation schedule.
For example, if you want the children to yourself for a couple of weeks during summer vacation and your spouse does not object, you can take the kids and go. Even the strictest parenting plan will have some degree of flexibility.
Problems only arise if the parents cannot agree on the modifications or if one parent refuses to comply with the terms of the parenting plan.
In such cases, an experienced New Jersey custody lawyer can offer support and guidance on how best to resolve the matter between the parents out of court.
DeTommaso Law Group, LLC is a formidable team of child custody attorneys committed to providing New Jersey parents with proactive representation. To learn more about your legal options in a divorce or a child custody case, call us now as (908) 274-3028 to arrange a consultation.