What is a parenting plan? New Jersey provides for legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to one or both parents having the legal authority to decide issues pertaining to their children such as medical care, educational issues, religious issues, and matters pertaining to their general well-being. Physical custody refers to one or both parents being involved in the child’s day-to-day life and decisions concerning their daily activities. Physical custody also pertains to where the child will be physically and the time that each parent will be spending with the child. Legal and physical custody can both be shared by the parents. Alternatively, one parent can maintain sole legal and or sole physical custody. A parenting plan outlines the day to day schedule as to where the child will be residing. At times a child can spend most of their days with one parent and share time with their other parent on weekends, vacations, and holidays. Sometimes parents choose to share a true equal schedule where they alternate each week so that the child spends equal time with each parent.
In certain circumstances, parents agree to a parallel parenting schedule, where they essentially disengage from each other to limit their own communication, but still maintain the best interests of the child while following the same exact plan and approach to issues pertaining to the children.
There are several factors that dictate what the schedule will be such as the child’s needs, what the parents determine is in the child’s best interest, the ability of the parties to work together and the proximity of the parents homes to each other. Sometimes parents share a more traditional parenting time schedule, where the child resides with one parent during the week and shares time with the other parent on the weekends. Parenting plans address how the child is transferred between parents, and what happens when there is a change in the schedule time. The parenting plan survives the divorce and is a reference tool and an agreed-upon legally binding document that the parties can use to guide them when a question arises as to their parenting schedules and rules and when it is necessary to modify the parenting plan.
What to include in a parenting plan
When parents are considering what to include in a parenting plan, attorneys often suggest that both parties attend mediation to discuss the details of their child’s lives, as well as their own responsibilities, when determining holidays, extracurricular activities, and vacation time with the children.
Can you modify a parenting plan?
What are the reasons to modify a parenting plan? Sometimes modification of the plan is necessary. A parenting plan can be modified when one parent moves out of state and perhaps starts a new job or relocates. Frequently, parenting plan modifications happen when there is a change in the child’s life. When a young child starts school, there may be a modification to the parenting plan. When a child is of school age, the child needs care throughout the day, but when school starts, the parents need to spend less time with the children during the day, and may need to modify the parenting plan.
Other factors that may prompt a parenting plan modification includes new relationships by one or both of the parents, which may impact the time and the day they want to spend with their child. The parents’ financial circumstances may impact their ability to provide a home for the child, or their ability to transfer the child. If a parent has developed a substance-abuse issue or becomes incarcerated, a parenting plan modification will be necessary to ensure that the child’s best interests are protected. There are often occasions when a parent refuses to cooperate with the existing parenting plan and under those circumstances the parenting plan has to be revisited.
Courts focus on the child. The best interest of the child will dictate. Parents need to focus on what is best for their child when negotiating a new parenting plan. If the parties cannot reach a determination by consent, the judge will decide the terms of the parenting plan modification by balancing the best interest of the child against each parent’s availability, resources, and interest in spending time with the child. Judges will consider a parenting plan modification if there is a substantial change in circumstances. It is best to try to resolve less significant modifications to the schedule without the need to petition the court for relief.
Here at DeTorres & DeGeorge our divorce lawyers are skilled attorneys. We understand the practical issues that parents have to navigate once a new parenting schedule is implemented. We negotiate agreements that address the likely changes in schedules as children attend different schools, develop relationships with friends, pursue after school hobbies and interests and begin to establish their own lives, which involves less dependency on one or both parents. Our lawyers draft strong parenting plans, negotiate parenting plan modifications and agreements, and litigate parenting plan modification requests. Call us today to schedule an appointment.