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When parents decide to separate or divorce, there are many things that need to be decided. First and foremost, custody and visitation of their children is a major concern. That’s where parenting plans come into play.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is an agreement that determines how a couple’s children will be raised. The document should be written and signed by both parents. It will clearly state which person has physical and legal custody of each child, who can make major decisions for those children, and when children will spend time with each parent.

Parents will need to work together to develop this plan. Even if they may not want to talk to one another at times, it will be necessary to interact and come to solutions that are in the best interests of their minor children. Parenting plans should not be biased or give one partner an unfair advantage over the other.

Input from the couple’s children may be taken into consideration if they are old enough to make some of their own decisions. Parents can listen to their children’s suggestions and advice and incorporate that information in their parenting plan. Compromises and sacrifices may be necessary to ensure that the children’s best interests are front and center.

Why are Parenting Plans Necessary?

Any court case that involves custody of a minor in the state of Maryland will require some sort of parenting plan. Parenting plan information will be available to parties at the first court hearing they attend. Parties are defined as adults who wish to create or continue a long-term parental relationship with a child. Biological, de facto and adoptive parents, as well as legal guardians, can fall into this category.

A Joint Statement (CC-DR-110) must be included if parties can’t decide on their own parenting plan. That statement, a Parenting Plan Tool and the Notice Regarding Restricted Information Pursuant to Rule 20-201.1 (MDJ-008), should also be provided to the court in all Maryland counties except Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore City. The Parenting Plan Tool will also be made available to parties at the initial hearing.

How Can I Set Up a Parenting Plan?

Parenting plans can be established at any time. They can be as vague or as specific as the parties want. Just remember that the court may ask you for more details if key concerns aren’t covered. The Maryland Parenting Plan Tool (CC-DR-109) and the Maryland Parent Plan Instructions (CC-DRIN-109) have helpful information and guidelines that can be used.

Partners should spend some time addressing their primary concerns for their children’s welfare. Parents can work together to ensure that their children have a stable environment that allows them to thrive. It may also be important to continue children’s relationships with their friends, aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members.

Both parties should work together to create a parenting plan that can benefit everyone involved. Some compromises may need to be made, and schedules may change at times. That’s perfectly okay. Parenting plans can be flexible.

If you’re not sure where to start, we can help. Contact us to schedule a free consultation. Our trained professionals will sit down and listen to what you have to say. We can assist in obtaining the necessary forms and documentation and brainstorm about what you want to include in your parenting plan.

Some of the factors that can be taken into consideration are:
  • Each child’s daily needs (school, education, religion, access to food and medical care, etc.)
  • The age and physical and mental condition of each child.
  • Each party’s physical location and proximity to one another, along with other family members, school, places of worship and so on.
  • Any previous parental agreements or court orders that may already be in effect.
  • Each child’s needs for learning and continuing improvement on their own cognitive functions, emotional growth, interpersonal abilities, physical safety and positive self-image.
  • Recurring contact or interactions with other adults who can also act in the best interests of each child who is involved in this plan.
  • Any military deployments by one or both parties that can affect the agreement.
  • Each child’s preference if they are old enough and of sound mind to make such decisions.
  • How the parties currently relate and interact with one another.
  • The roles and responsibilities of each party.
  • How possible problems will be resolved without having to resort to resolutions made by a court of law.
  • How to protect the children named in the plan from the negative impacts of any disagreements or disputes that may arise between parties.
  • What duties each party will have and what can be done if responsibilities change.
  • Vacations, holidays and other event schedules.
  • How health records, and schooling information can be accessed and shared.
  • Who will be listed as the child’s emergency contacts?
  • How child care will be established.
  • Physical custody and visitation schedules for the affected children. This can also include visitation pickup and drop-off dates and times.
  • How parents can communicate with each other (phone, text, email, video chat, etc.).
  • How to resolve present and future disputes. Parties may agree to talk to each other to solve problems, or attend mediation sessions.

The court will require a copy of the parenting plan. Both parties should also have this information on file for their records. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get things right the first time. It may take several revisions before a parenting plan is agreed upon and signed.

Each parent should remain in regular contact with the other. This can be especially necessary if plans change due to inclement weather, changes in schedules, emergency medical procedures or other reasons. There can also be times when schedules overlap and calendar items need to be prioritized to maintain fairness.

Separation and divorce are never easy. Family life and other personal relationships will be irrevocably changed. Parents and children may see divorce as an end or a failure. In fact, it could be a new beginning and the fresh start that some families need. Parenting plans are a good way to ensure that children’s needs are being met and that they stay in constant contact with their parents and other relatives. It can also help everyone directly impacted by the divorce to start taking steps on their way to a happier, more fulfilling life.