Until recently, Maryland was one of the few states that did not require parents in a custody action to file a “Parenting Plan”, a document where the parents aim to agree to basic guidelines for how they raise their children. However, recently enacted Rule 9-204.1 now requires all parents in a custody dispute case to submit a Parenting Plan to the court.
The introduction of Rule 9-204.1 keeps the focus on the children and gives Maryland parents the opportunity to discuss, consider, and submit a plan that works best for their families.
At JDKatz, PC, we help our clients draft Parenting Plans that have the foresight to anticipate future disputes and provide mechanisms for resolving them. In every Parenting Plan, we aim to help clients to accomplish their personal parenting goals while providing stability and predictability to both children and parents and reducing the risk of future litigation.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A Parenting Plan is a written agreement outlining how the parents plan to care for their children. Parents can tailor their Parenting Plan to address the unique circumstances of their family. How general or specific a plan will depend on the specific needs of each family.
Generally, most Parenting Plans will address:
- basic parenting schedules, i.e. the time a parent will spend with their children,
- how parents will exchange custody of the children,
- how parents will communicate with one another and their children,
- and how major decisions will be made.
When Am I Required to Submit a Parenting Plan?
Parties to an initial or modification of custody action are required to submit a Parenting Plan, or where a party wants to preserve or establish a parent-child relationship, must file a Parenting Plan.
How Do I Create a Parenting Plan?
Parenting Plans will differ based on the relationship between the parents, the number of children, and the children’s ages, activities, and health circumstances. In fact, each child may require a separate plan that addresses their circumstances.
The court will provide resources to assist parties in drafting a Parenting Plan but parties should be mindful that self-drafted Parenting Plans may leave parents with a plan that fails to address critical issues or includes unintentional errors. This leaves both parents and children without the stability and predictability of a properly drafted plan and exposes parents to potentially costly future litigation. Because of this, many Parenting Plans are the result of mediation and negotiation between the parties and their counsel.
As mentioned, the plan generally focuses on (i) parenting schedules, (ii) custody exchanges, (iii) communication and, (iv) how major decisions will be made. Commonly we see the following:
Basic Parenting Schedule: Details when each parent will be with their children, such as on school nights, weekends, school breaks, and special occasions like holidays and birthdays.
Often, plans will also describe when and how a parent can request an adjustment to a plan’s parenting schedule. For example, if a parent has an out-of-town work obligation during their scheduled time with the children, a parenting plan may require that parent to provide the other parent with sufficient notice and consider who will care for the children during that time.
Exchange Provisions: Likewise, exchange provisions arrange where and how the children will go from one parent to another under the plan’s schedule.
For example, this provision could provide that the custodial parent always does the drop off at the end of their access time or even provide that the parents meet at a halfway point for the exchange.
Communication Provisions: Set out how the parents will communicate with each other and their children.
For example, where the parents’ relationship is particularly tense, some plans may limit direct communication between the parents to only when there is a child emergency. Where the relationship is more amicable, a plan may allow direct communication among the parents and their children. Many plans will prohibit the parents from speaking negatively about the other to their children.
Decision Making: Provisions dealing with how the parents will make decisions about their children vary depending on the facts of each family. Most commonly, a plan will address how the parents will make major decisions about their children’s health, education, and well-being. To provide certainty, a plan will often rest final authority over major decisions with one parent. Where necessary, a plan will also include under what religion the children will be raised.
The most detailed plans will address foreseeable disputes such as who will attend the children’s events like teacher-parent conferences, doctor appointments, and sports games, whether a parent can travel on vacation with the children, have a third party, such as a babysitter or friend, pick the children up from school or practice, or permit the children to stay the night at a friend’s or family member’s home.
What if You Cannot Agree on a Parenting Plan?
In the event that you and the other parent cannot agree on a Parenting Plan, you will need to complete a Joint Statement which will have each parent propose a solution they believe to be in the best interest of the child.
At JDKatz, PC our experienced family law attorneys are here to help our clients navigate the complex custody process and provide them with the tools and expertise they need to achieve their parenting goals through a uniquely tailor Parenting Plan. Please feel free to contact Elizabeth J. McInturff at (240) 743-5410 to discuss your matter today.