In order to formalize parenting time involving minor children, the parents must have a Parenting Plan signed by a judge. Contrary to what many people may think, parents sometimes come to an agreement on parenting time and then submit the Parenting Plan to the judge for approval without having to go to court. The parties often engage in these negotiations through their attorneys, a mediator, or both.
Parenting Plans are arrived at more smoothly in circumstances in which the parents still have a degree of amicability and/or truly desire what is best for their child(ren). Although Parenting Plans can vary widely, they should all include determinations of:
- Residential Responsibility: where the child will live, shared responsibility is the legal starting point. In other words, the parents have equal parenting time.
- Decision Making: who will be in charge of making decisions affecting a child’s upbringing, such as schooling, medical care, and religious practices. Most often the parents have joint decision making.
- Parenting Time: when the child(ren) will be with each parent.
- Holiday Schedules: with whom the child will spend major holidays, birthdays, vacations, and other special occasions.
- How disputes with and changes to the agreement will be dealt with.
Once a Parenting Plan is drawn up, it must be submitted to a judge for final approval. If it is agreed upon, very often the parents will not even need to attend a hearing. The judge will approve the Plan and mail the orders out to the parents. If there is a hearing, the judge will verify that both parties understand the agreement, voluntarily enter into the agreement and have the best interests of the child(ren) in mind. If satisfied, the judge will grant court approval. The agreement is then legally binding. If either party fails to abide by it, he/she will likely face legal consequences.