By: Alan Freed
When you have children under 18 and you go through a divorce (dissolution of marriage) in Missouri, you are required by law to have a parenting plan as part of the dissolution judgment. A parenting plan is a document that describes how your children will be taken care of: how you will make decisions, how the children’s expenses will be paid for, how you will deal with disagreements, and, perhaps the part you will depend upon most, the schedule for the children’s care.
That schedule (sometimes referred to as the “residential schedule”) is part of what the law refers to as “physical custody.” I prefer to think of the schedule as your means of determining which parent is “on duty” and which parent is “off duty” at any particular time. It allows you to plan your life as well as those of your children. It lets you know when you need to be available for the children—to drive them from place to place, supervise them, help them with homework, and all of the other parental chores we do—and when you will be on your own time.
By statute, the residential schedule must include certain components: it must cover weekdays and weekends, school breaks, and holidays, including school holidays. It must include a schedule for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and the children’s birthdays. A recent court case sent a residential schedule back to the trial court because the judge had not included the child’s birthday on the schedule.
The parenting plan also must provide details on such things as where and when the children will be exchanged, how transportation duties will be shared, and appropriate times for telephone access.
Sometimes our clients are able to cooperate about these kinds of issues and are reluctant to include the level of detail that the law demands. We always encourage our clients to cooperate as much as is possible concerning child-related matters. It makes life easier for the children and the parents. Nevertheless, because part of a lawyer’s job is to anticipate how things might go wrong in the future, and because the law requires us to do so, we will insist upon a high level of detail in every parenting plan. You can always agree to depart from the plan on a specific occasion. But if you and your former spouse are having difficulty coming to agreement on how the holidays will be shared or when vacations will be scheduled, you have a document that you can rely on to resolve those disagreements and you won’t have to run back to lawyers to work out those problems.
Writing a parenting plan involves far more than simply grabbing a “standard” schedule off a shelf and filling in some names. It requires thoughtful consideration of the needs of the children and the parents, taking into account everyone’s school and work schedules, family traditions, traveling needs, and a host of other issues.
The family law attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal have many years of experience in writing parenting plans individually tailored for each family’s specific needs.