What is a parenting plan?
Traditionally, in a Minnesota divorce involving a husband and wife who have children, the court would create an order setting out custody arrangements and visitation, or “parenting time.” In Minnesota, however, you now have the option of having more say in the matter of how parenting will happen following your divorce. A parenting plan is a formal custody arrangement that is created by you and your ex-spouse, not handed down to you by a judge. Under Minnesota law, a parenting plan must be created inplace of a court-issued custody order if both parents request the parenting plan. The only exception to this is if the court finds that the proposed plan is not in the best interests of the child. Thus, a parenting plan is a formal legal document that binds both parties to the agreement.
What goes into a parenting plan?
Certain things are mandatory. These include a detailed schedule of the time each parent spends with the child, determination of who has decision-making responsibilities regarding the child, and a blueprint for how any future disputes regarding the plan will be resolved.
Those are just the basics. Other items you might consider including in the plan, depending on your specific circumstances, are:
-the legal standard, such as the best interest of the child, that will govern a decision on whether the child’s residence may be removed from the state (in order to include this type of provision, both parents must have been represented by a lawyer in the creation of the parenting plan);
-who is responsible for expenses for a child’s extracurricular activities;
-who has access to the child’s school, health, and other records;
-whose house will be the child’s primary residence; and
-any special conditions that might arise from your circumstances, such as a restriction on a parent’s use of alcohol while he or she is with the child.
-when the children get to meet your new “significant other”
to name just a few items, but the sky really is the limit. A plan can be as detailed or as vague as you would like it to be. Typically, my suggestion is that the more detailed a parenting plan is the better it is and will be more likely to last.
Does my plan have to sound like a legal textbook?
A typical Minnesota court-issued custody order might contain terms that either aren’t familiar to you or which you aren’t exactly sure what they mean. One benefit of a parenting plan, however, is that you and your ex-spouse don’t have to use the exact legal terminology of Minnesota divorce law. Instead, you can use terms as you want to use them, as long as you define those terms within the parenting plan. So, for example, you don’t have to refer to “parenting time” but could instead call it “visitation.”
Although this can be a nice perk of a parenting plan, it can also be a drawback. Make sure your terms are well-defined, and don’t agree to vague terminology on the basis that using more specific terms would make it impossible for you and your ex to agree. If you agree to vague language in the parenting plan, you may well find yourself back in litigation in the near future.
Make it come alive
An important part of your parenting plan should be provisions for when and how the parenting plan may change. For example, will changes be made if one parent so requests? If both parents so request? Or maybe you’d like to schedule a review of the plan at the start of the child’s school year each year. Minnesota law allows parents to modify the plan’s time schedules or decision-making provisions, although you need a court order confirming the modifications to make them enforceable.
Do we really want a parenting plan?
A parenting plan works best when there is some level of cooperation between you and your ex. If your current level of communication involves glowering silently at each other from across the table, a parenting plan may not be the best solution for your situation. In such cases, a custody and parenting time order issued by the court may work better.
Ok, sounds great, how do I get one?
Typically, you’ll want to talk to your divorce/custody lawyer and tell them you are interested in a parenting plan. If you don’t have a lawyer you can try and do it yourself, I don’t recommend it, but it may be better than nothing. The Fourth District has some great sample parenting plans for download (and their free!).
As always, if you have any question or comments either post them here or email me at Jkohlmeyer@rokolaw.com.
If you’d like more information feel free to visit www.MankatoFamilyLaw.com
Rosengren Kohlmeyer, Law Office Chtd.