When going through a custody dispute, whether from divorce or custody coming to an agreement in custody &/or visitation can be taxing.  A parenting plan, custody order or parenting agreement are all a part of custody matters.  It is a legal and binding document that addresses how each parent will split time, their rights & responsibilities when the child(ren) is with them and, sometimes, the consequences for breach. Although most states have a standard parenting plan it recommends, parents often have their own idea of how they’d like to coparent and split time. Parenting plans are necessary regardless of custody. However, the details of the various relevant topics vary according to the type of custody each party has. Sole custody situations have a slight variation in how parenting plans are approached.

Types of Parenting Plans

 Step Up Plan-

This plan is typically used in cases where the child is very young and the non-custodial parent has had little to no contact with the child.  This plan aims to gradually increase time or access between the NCP and the child.  The graduated time schedule is often based on the developmental stages of the child while allowing ample time for a bond to develop between them.

 

Joint Custody Plan-

This parenting plan gives both parents equal time and/or equal decision-making abilities.  This applies to joint legal custody, shared or 50/50 custody arrangements.

 

Sole Custody with Visitation Plan-

This plan usually only addresses a time schedule for access/visitation for the NCP parent.  When one parent has sole custody, they have full authority to make all decisions regarding the child’s day to day.

 

Long Distance Plan-

When the parents live a distance apart, this plan gives extra attention to things like the cost of travel, the means of transportation, etc. The access or visitation time is usually different than other more conventional plans. (Read here about long distance parenting.)


Long-Distance Co-Parenting

 

Common Provisions in Parenting Plans

 Most parenting plans cover some basis topics that apply to all families no matter what the dynamics (except for sole custody.) These include:

  

Controversial Provisions in Parenting Plans

            Although there are some pretty standard provisions in most plans, there are some that aren’t but parties routinely request them.  The policy issues behind parents coming up with plans that they can live with are based on efficiency.  The courts’ objective is to keep conflict to minimum so that litigants are not running back to court to help.  As a result, most judges will strongly urge AGAINST including things referred to as “morality clauses”.  These are provisions that focus on things that are of a moral interest.

There are also provisions that are not of a moral nature but that make enforcement of them nearly impossible. Although a plan is a court order and binding on the parties, enforcing it is entirely up to them no one is going to monitor them.

Here is the list:

 1.  Right of First Refusal, ordering that each parent uses the other as backup instead of a third person. There is not always practical depending on the circumstances.

2. No Paramour Exposure, limiting either parent from having a romantic interest around the child. This goes both ways, so the one supporting this usually is the one to want to change it.

3. No variations without Court Intervention, limiting ether parent from making adjustments to schedule amongst themselves. This can be expensive and create more conflict.

4. Child’s Choice to Visit, letting the child choose when & if they spend time with other parent. Younger children are not qualified to make this decision soundly.

5. Child Not Allowed to Call Others Mom or Dad, children can’t use any variation of Mom/Dad for stepparents. Children often decide on their own to call their stepparents Mom or Dad.

6. No Badmouthing the Other Parent, morally this should be an automatic. This is not a likely reason to seek Contempt if either violates.

7. Stepparents are Not to be Involved, stepparents are limited in the day to day of the child when the bio parent is exercising their visits. This is impractical and almost impossible, also may not be in the child’s best interests.

8. Custodial Parent to force Teens to Visit, forcing a teen to visit with the other parent when they refuse. This may be difficult to enforce since the child’s preference is a factor considered.

9. Parties to Agree on Visit Schedule, the parents are to agree, on their own, when visits will be exercised. This leaves the custodial parent with way too much power.

10. Relocation Geographic Limits Based on State, limiting or restricting the ability to relocate to within the current state. The limits should be based on miles because even within state relocations can cause issues with respect to visits.

 

    Things to Consider when Creating the Plan

These provisions are the reason why negotiating the plan details takes a lot of things to keep in mind.

  1. Keep emotions out of it as much as possible.
  2. Focus on the needs of the child(ren).
  3. Remember that your child(ren) will be going through a tough adjustment period.
  4. Be reasonable. What works for one works for the other.
  5. Think short term and long term.
  6. Know what your state laws are.

 

In Conclusion

As parents, you are subject to continuous litigation no matter what.  However, if you can minimize the likelihood of being sued for contempt of court then it makes sense to.  A well thought plan does not mean one that oversteps in its application.  Sometimes, less is more.

If you need help developing a solid parenting plan, please feel free to visit my Unbundled Services page here.

Parent Education
Parent Education

I’m a big advocate for parents improving their knowledge, skills, aptitude to be the best parent they can be. Parent education comes in various forms and numerous methods. Some are much more advanced than others, but it doesn’t hurt to participate in the basic ones.

What is Parent Education?

Parent education is the training, informing, or preparing parents for the challenges of raising children. Although parent’s education is available to any parent at any point in their parenting journey, they don’t typically seek help until they are embroiled in a custody battle.

Parent education can help parents learn to communicate more effectively; use positivity more often; discipline without harshness and so on. Parenting education can address everything from emotional/behavioral techniques to financial skills, they vary.

Parent education can be delivered in the form of in-person classes, live stream workshops, recorded webinars, even self-study programs. They vary in their duration as well, some are several weeks while others can be as long as three months. (Read more here on the different types of parents education programs.)


Divorce Therapy and its Implications


Parent Education and Divorce or Custody

In many states, the courts require that parents participate in parent education programs when a divorce is filed or a Custody proceeding commenced. Approximately seventeen states have mandatory parent’s education when divorced is filed, whether contested or uncontested. (NJ, for example, has enacted the Parents Education Act, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-12.1 to 2A:34-12.8).

The courts have an objective in mandating or encouraging participation in parents education. They want to minimize conflict amongst parents and to ensure that the children receive adequate support from the parents during the very emotional process.

From the court’s perspective, there are advantages to the parents and the children of divorce where parenting education is incorporated. For the parents, they learn to resolve conflict on their own and not involve the courts. In addition, parents get a better understanding of their respective obligation to provide for their child(ren)’s financial needs. As for the children, they usually do better academically, transition to their new life easier, and behave appropriately in their environments. The court has a vested interest in children dealing with the divorce appropriately. Again, it keeps the parents out of court for Contempt or Modification petitions.

In some custody battles, it is advisable to parent education courses whether it’s mandatory or not.  In a case where one parent has a history of questionable discipline tactics, for instance, presenting evidence of parent education completion can allay the court’s concerns on this topic.

The Mechanics of Parent Education Programs

There is usually a fee the parents have to pay for the parent education program. The fees typically range from $25 to $100. (These fees can be waived in some instances.) Nonprofit organizations and associations are most often the providers of these programs. Each state has its process of accepting or approving the parents education programs.  However, most of them have clear requirements that the programs must meet to meet the standards for approval.

There can be consequences for either parent’s failure to participate or complete the parent’s education. Of course, where they are mandatory the consequences are harsher. Failure to adhere to the court’s requirements, depending on the reason, constitutes violating a court order. Sanctions for such violations range from a change in parenting time to delaying the final judgment or order of divorce.

In conclusion

Parents education resources are not hard to come by. In all instances where parents feel they can benefit from the insight they provide they should be sought out. The advantages of the programs far outweigh the costs in almost every case.

If you wish to speak to me about your custody or divorce please feel free to contact me for a FREE 15 min consultation.

child support

 

Child support and child custody intercepts at times, but that depends on several factors. In most states Child support is determined by statutory guidelines imposed by that state. Those guidelines usually takes into consideration parents’ income (either one or both), number of children, previous financial orders and some excepted expenses (like employment deductions). Some states also consider the custody arrangement.


Best Interests of the Child Custody Each State


The Purpose of Child Support

Child support is intended to provide financial support for children. That generally means that each parent contributes to providing all the basic needs of their child(ren), including medical and educational too.  Although the Child Support Standards Act is the federal law governing child support, each state has its own law with respect to parents financial obligations to their children. Most states statutes base their guidelines on cost of living among other things.

There are 3 models each state chooses from, which are as follows:

Income Shares Model– this is based on the premise that children should receive the same proportion of their parents income that they would have received if the parents loved together. Most states, 41 to be exact, use this model. (Get more details here on each states guidelines.)

Percentage of Income Model– sets out a percentage of ONLY the noncustodial parent’s income. The custodial parents income is NOT taken into consideration. There is the Flat Percentage and the Varying Percentage variations. Four states use the former, while two states use the latter.

Melson Formula-a more complicated (and rarely used) version of the Income Shares Model. This takes into account each parents needs as well as the children’s. Only 3 states use this one. (See Delaware’s child support law.)

Child Custody Impact on Child Support

There is a difference in joint custody, shared custody and 50/50 custody. (Read here for in depth discussion from one of my previous blog posts.) In cases where either parent has sole or primary custody the noncustodial parent pays child support pursuant to their state statute. However, with respect to shared or 50/50 custody, where the child(ren) spend equal time with both parents obligation varies based on which Model the state uses.

With respect to Income Shares Model, the parents combined incomes and the number of children results in a figure. That figure is then divided proportionately based on the amount of time the children lives with each parent.

In the Percentage of Income Model, custody and support usually takes a different approach. Typically, only the noncustodial parent’s income is used to calculate support obligation. However, in shared  or 50/50 custody arrangements, the custodial parent’s income is a factor. The custodial parent’s income is compared to the noncustodial’s income to determine which is the highest. The parent with the highest income pays child support.

Some states’ statutes allows for the court to use discretion in rendering a final support order. In these instances, shared or 50/50, or any variation of joint physical custody, can justify the court coming up with an amount different from the statutory calculation.

In conclusion

 You should definitely familiarize yourself with your state’s child support and child custody laws before attempting to negotiate any settlements.

If you would like to discuss the options I have to help you prepare your case for settlement, mediation or trial, please feel free to set up a free consultation. Visit my Home page for details about the services I offer.

Co-parenting

Co-parenting can go as smoothly as the parties allow it to.  It doesn’t have to be complicated or have a lot of conflict. However, it does not mean that when parties disagree on issues that it is unsuccessful.  Co-parenting simply means that parents communicate effectively and collaborate on important decisions regarding their child(ren).  Disagreements, confusion, etc. are not necessarily nonexistent when parents co-parent successfully. Judges understand the nuances involved when faced with the challenges of coming up with a workable co-parenting agreement.


Long-Distance Co-Parenting


Signs of “Good” of Co-parenting

There is an underlying concept of what “good” or “favorable” co-parenting looks like and it’s based on several principles.  The principles center around maintaining the best environment for the mental, emotional, intellectual and physical development of the child(ren).  To ensure that these principles are given the utmost consideration there are some vital tips parents should keep in mind.

  1. Maintain clear boundaries. This means that each parent should keep in mind the things they have control over and those they do not.  Know your limits and have reasonable expectations.
  2. Set & keep a predetermined schedule. The more precise and exact the time, location, etc. the parenting schedule is the better it is for all involved.
  3. Be flexible. Setting a precise schedule does not mean that you need to firm and uncooperative when it comes to emergencies or unexpected/unforeseen events.  Life is full of these sort of things so it is important to remember that when co-parenting.
  4. Extend courtesies to each other. You don’t have to love each other anymore but treat the other parent the way you want them to treat you.  (In my Michelle Obama voice “they go low, you go high”.)
  5. Keep the kids out of it. This means the child(ren) should not be relaying messages, made to choose sides or witness any negativity about either parent.
  6. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Talking, texting, emailing, using an app, etc. whatever means or method you choose you should definitely communicate.  You don’t have to respond, especially if you’re tempted to respond negatively, but you should definitely include the other parent in the important things.
  7. Attend events without tension. You can share events, occasions, etc. without conflict.  (Of course if there’s a history of any sort of violence this may not be the best thing.) You can go in shifts, agree to stay in a certain area or similar, but you don’t have to anticipate tension when attending an event at the same time.
  8. Respect each parent’s role. Each parent has a role in their child’s life.  Never mind what you think of it, how important it is or how meaningful it is, it exists.  You should respect the other parent’s role no matter what.
  9. Check yourself. You have an obligation and a duty to keep yourself in line when it comes to co-parenting.  If you each do this then the other does not need to.
  10. It’s about your child(ren), not either of you. This is self-explanatory.

“Not So Good” but Effective Coparenting

As I stated above, effective co-parenting can still exist despite all of the elements mentioned.  Of course, studies have shown that low conflict co-parenting rears emotionally and mentally stable children.  However, children are not doomed because they were not raised by “ideal” co-parents.

I want to highlight the fact that I am not referring to “parallel parenting” where each parent don’t communicate and raise their children in two separate households with hardly any interaction with each other.  That is very different from the “not so good” co-parenting I am referring to.   That being said, let’s explore co-parenting situations where all the elements I discussed are not present.

  1. You won’t agree on EVERYTHING. And it’s perfectly ok.  How many times did you actually agree when you were together?
  2. Things happen. It’s life, surprises come up that should not turn your entire world upside down if you have to change things around.
  3. Biting the bullet, so to speak, won’t kill you. Choose your battles wisely, some things are best left unsaid or not responded to.  There will times when the other parent tries to ruffle your feathers, be the bigger person.
  4. Keeping a record of interactions is wise. It is not problematic to keep some sort of diary/journal of all interactions like pickup and/or drop off just to maintain some organization.
  5. Short conversations or exchanges are not antagonistic. Being civil sometimes means keeping the conversations to a few words or phrases and that’s it.
  6. Different parenting styles is acceptable. No need to parent the same way, in fact, it’s more beneficial if you don’t.  You should have the same intentions but don’t have be identical in your means of acquiring them.
  7. You are are not obligated to feel comfortable being in their presence. It is not wrong if you opt out of attending certain events because you don’t want to be in the same room.
  8. Sharing is not always caring. Keeping some things, that are not important, between you and your child and/or your new significant other is not detrimental.
  9. Having a new significant other is not a bad thing. Many people think dating or having a live-in paramour looks bad to the other parent and/or the court.  This is not necessarily the case as long as they don’t pose a risk to the child(ren).
  10. Your kids having issues with either or both of you it totally fine. Kids can be manipulative and controlling, so they will push your buttons this should not affect your co-parenting.

In conclusion

Co-parenting may look different for each family, this is totally acceptable.  Every single family has it’s own set of issues, expectations, etc.  So if your co-parenting relationship seems unique because of any of these reasons it’s ok. Try to focus on your overall objective, that is to ensure that your child(ren)’s well-being is paramount.

If you would like to speak with me about the services I provide please feel free to schedule a FREE 15 min. consultation here.

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