By: Alan E. Freed
Let’s say you and your spouse have decided to end your marriage. You are both sad but neither of you is particularly angry with the other; you both simply realize that the marriage isn’t working. So, you sit down to work out how you will share the children’s care. In an hour sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, you come up with a schedule that outlines who will be caring for the children when. Pretty easy, right?
From the perspective of an experienced family law attorney, the steps you have taken, as admirable as they are, constitute the first phase of putting together a document courts refer to as a “parenting plan.” This plan will be the roadmap for your family’s future. It is a contract between the parents, enforceable by a judge, with potentially expensive consequences for failing to follow its terms. And, like any contract, it needs to be written carefully, with an eye towards what could possibly go wrong.
Lawyers are trained to be cautious and conservative in how they draft contracts. While we hope for the best, we are required to plan for the worst. You and your spouse may be getting along very well now, but what will happen if you don’t like his new girlfriend or your new husband’s children operate on a holiday schedule different from the one you and your ex-husband worked out?
We do our best to prevent problems by anticipating where they are likeliest to happen. We need to nail down precisely the starting and ending time for every period of parenting time. If you tell us you intend to split Christmas, we need to know when the first half of the holiday starts and when it ends (e.g., 5:00 p.m. December 24th to noon December 25th), and also when the second half ends. If you say that each of you will have time with the children on their birthdays, we need to outline specific times for each of you. We hope your cooperation will continue forever—it’s better for you and for your children—but no contract can require you to be nice to each other or to jointly celebrate the birthday.
Just as there is no “standard” family, there is no “standard” parenting plan. Each family’s situation is unique and each family deserves a parenting plan carefully crafted for its particular needs.
The family law attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal work closely with our clients to create parenting plans that are clear, understandable, and enforceable.