During your divorce, if you have children under the age of eighteen, you will be required to enter a Permanent Parenting Plan in your divorce. This is a roughly 9-page form document that governs such things as:
- where the children will reside, and when;
- how exchanges of the children will go;
- how important decisions are going to get made;
- how much child support is going to get paid and to whom;
- how conflicts will be resolved;
- any other special provisions that need to be put into place regarding parenting your children post-divorce.
Fashioning a strong parenting plan is usually the most difficult work done on your divorce, because of the high emotion surrounding giving up time with your children, the potential for arguments to erupt regarding who they are around and with what values they will be raised, and how financial support will flow.
It is also the most important part of your divorce to settle, rather than to litigate. If you litigate the questions in your permanent parenting plan, the Court is required to “maximize the participation of both parents in the life of the children consistent with the children’s best interest.” Most courts default to ordering an equal time split, at least if both parents reside locally. When one parent is asking for more than half of the time, the Court will want answers to the following questions:
- Where does each parent live, and how far away from each other and the child’s school?
- Who is the child closer to, emotionally?
- Who has been the child’s primary caretaker?
- Who has traditionally gotten the child to school, doctors, extra curricular activities?
- Who encourages the child to have a good relationship with the other parent?
- Who has the better history of providing the child with food, clothing, etc?
- Does this child have any special needs that one parent meets better than the other?
- Who is more morally, physically, mentally, and emotionally fit to parent?
- How does the child get along with other members of each parents’ household?
- Who provides the most stable home environment?
- What’s the current arrangement, and how is the child doing in it?
- What is the character of other people who will be around the child?
- What is the reasonable preference of a child over the age of 12?
- When does each parent work?
- What does the Judge’s gut tell him will work best?
You and the other parent are going to be able to answer these questions with more precision, and attention to detail, than a Judge, who is a stranger to your child; therefore, mediation is required in all divorces, to try to resolve the Parenting Plan in a way agreeable to both parents. If you can’t agree, you’ll need your attorney to come to court prepared to defend your position, and to present evidence on all fifteen of these points. It’s an expensive, stressful process, in which you literally put the fate of your child in the hands of a disinterested stranger.
At Held Law Firm, we begin that process by interviewing you, and sending the other parent written questions, to learn where the points of agreement and disagreement are. From there, we gather written evidence and witness statements to both advise you on issues you may not have considered, and to advocate for your position in negotiations, mediation, and in Court.
In our experience, once the parties can put down, even for a moment, the emotions that are the natural outgrowth of the stress related to the change in a divorce, parents agree on what’s best for their kids more often than they disagree. This is a good thing, because even after you are divorced, you will still have to cooperate in raising these children. It is extremely rare for one parent or the other to get all the time or all the control over custody. The time and money you spend in fashioning a workable parenting plan at the outset will save you countless sleepless nights and thousands of dollars in the years to come.