A New Jersey parenting plan sets forth the physical custody arrangements between the children's two parents. An effective and successful parenting plan protects the best interests of your children and helps to foster a spirit of cooperation between former spouses. Developing a parenting plan is an incredibly important part of protecting the health and well-being of your children, as well as saving yourself from difficulty.
If you and your soon-to-be former spouse have children, attorney Joseph D. Lento and his experienced Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm can help protect your parental rights. This can be a difficult process, but you do not need to face it alone.
Creating a New Jersey Parenting Plan
If parents are granted joint custody as part of their divorce, a parenting plan details how parents will cooperatively raise their children. The plan helps to outline the responsibilities of each of the parents as it relates to the children. The point of a parenting plan is to create a system that both parents are able to follow and works to further the best interests of the children. An effective plan can save the cost of litigation over the details, as well as prevent the frustration that fighting with your former spouse brings.
Creating a plan requires open communication and negotiation with your former or soon-to-be former spouse. This is best effectuated with a knowledgeable attorney at your side who can make sure the agreement complies with New Jersey law and is made in such a way that it will likely be accepted by the court.
What a Parenting Plan Does
A parenting plan helps to make sure that the parents of the children understand their responsibilities, including, but not limited to:
- Physical custody
- Responsibilities of parenting
A parenting plan sets out, in detail, methods for resolving disputes as well as the specific responsibility assigned to each parent. You and your ex can develop a parenting plan collaboratively with your attorneys. However, if you can't agree on a division of custody and responsibilities, a judge will decide the issues for you.
The Other Parent Won't Agree - What Do I Do?
When parents cannot agree to a parenting plan, more difficulty can arise. Ultimately, it will be up to the New Jersey court to decide what is in the best interests of the children. If you cannot agree, the court will impose upon you both a parenting plan it thinks is best. It will not take your needs and wants into consideration as much as if you were able to negotiate a plan with the other parent.
Sometimes, it may be that the parents can agree to some or even most of the details of the plan, but not all. When this occurs, the details of the parenting plan that you both agree to can be put down and suggested to the court. For anything that remains and cannot be negotiated between the parties, the court will have to decide upon it. Typically, you will submit a proposal for the court's consideration.
When parents are unable to agree to a parenting plan, attorney Joseph D. Lento, and his experienced Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm can help to develop a plan to suggest to the judge that will protect both your interests and those of your children.
Contents of a New Jersey Parenting Plan
When parents have joint custody, New Jersey courts generally require a suggested parenting plan be submitted. This can be an agreed plan or separate proposals. Even with an agreed plan, the court will analyze the contents of it to determine if it fits the best interests of the children. One of the most important provisions of your parenting plan will deal with custody. In New Jersey, custody can be shared, sole, or joint.
- Physical Custody Physical custody refers to where your children live. Shared custody is the most common arrangement in New Jersey, with the children spending at least 104 overnights a year with the other parent. The primary residence will be the home where your child spends the most time and often determines your kids' school district. The parent with less physical time with the With sole physical custody, your child will live with one parent the majority of the time and with the other for fewer than 104 overnights a year. The noncustodial parent will typically pay child support. If it's unsafe for your child to be alone with your ex, the court may order supervised visitation.
- Legal Custody Legal custody will determine who gets to make decisions for your children, including where they attend school, their religious upbringing, and making healthcare decisions. You and your ex can often agree to share legal custody, making decisions for your children collaboratively. In other cases, you may divide legal decisions for your children between the two of you. For example, one of you could have the final decision-making authority on education decisions, while the other makes final decisions on healthcare. If you decide to share legal custody, it's important to delineate specific areas of responsibility in your parenting plan. You should include specifics, and your options might include:
- Giving each parent shared legal responsibility,
- Allowing each parent to make decisions independently,
- Giving each of you purview over specific parenting decisions, or
- Naming a third party to make decisions if you and your ex can't agree.
Your parenting plan can include:
- Legal custody concerns
- Physical custody concerns
- Scheduling issues related to custody, visitations, and care of the children
- Details concerning the children's education
- Details about religious involvement
- Decisions about healthcare and payment
- Transportation arrangements, such as pick-ups from school or activities
- Procedures for dispute resolution
The more detailed the parenting plan is, the better it is in most cases. Some specific areas you should address in more detail include:
- Communication with children: You can include details about how and when each parent can communicate with your children during the other's parenting time.
- Communication between parents: You should include details about how and when parents should contact each other. You'll always want to ensure you keep an open line of communication in case of emergencies.
- Expenses: You'll want to include details about splitting expenses not covered by child support, such as health care, tuition, or sports fees.
- Child exchanges: Your parenting plan should address who will pick up your children for custody exchanges and where. It's often best to specify that the parent receiving the kids will pick them up. That way, you are more likely to get the kids promptly for your parenting time.
- Right of first refusal: If one of you needs someone to care for your kids for an extended period, will the other have the right of first refusal to care for them?
- Third-party caregivers: If someone else needs to care for your child, you can list who can do so and order of priority, such as grandparents, a family friend, or hired caregivers.
- New relationships: You may want to include details about introducing your children to new relationships and a timeline. You may also want to include whether new partners can make decisions for your children and when.
- Vacations: Your parenting plan should indicate where the children will go for school vacations and breaks and how to handle splitting parenting times for holidays.
- Missed visits: You should include details about what will happen if you or your ex must miss part of your parenting time. For example, if you travel for business and have to skip a week of your time, can you make it up later?
While it is hard to plan for every eventuality, being proactive in creating a plan that can work for everyone involved is beneficial to both parties and the children.
What to Consider in Drafting Your Plan
In creating a parenting plan, the parents and their attorneys should consider:
- How the parents divided child responsibilities before the divorce
- School locations and calendars
- Ages of the children
- Any special needs the children may have
- Extra-curricular activities
- How extended family interactions are treated
- The parent's work schedules
- Financial responsibilities and division of costs
Knowing exactly what to think about in a plan is not a thing most people have a lot of experience with. An experienced New Jersey custody attorney does and can put that knowledge to work for you.
Mediation - Negotiating a Parenting Plan
Mediation can be a useful tool in negotiating with the other parent when trying to agree on a parenting plan. Mediation uses a neutral third party, the mediator, who speaks with both parties in order to foster agreement between them. The mediator will speak with the parties separately at times and together at other times. He or she will attempt to encourage agreement where possible.
The mediator does this by finding areas of agreement and finding out what each party desires most in a shared parenting plan. He or she can find common ground to create compromise. Mediators, together with your attorney, often have an uncanny ability to resolve conflicts that seemed insurmountable before. There is great power in using a neutral party to help negotiate an agreement.
Consult a New Jersey Custody Attorney
A parenting plan is a very important part of your divorce, as well as your future post-divorce life. Not only can it protect your rights as a parent, but it will better protect the rights of all of your children as well. It can help resolve conflicts that arise and set guidelines for the parties to follow. This can save you from having to go back to court to argue over disputes regarding the children.
If you and your spouse are getting a divorce, or need help dealing with your former spouse, experienced New Jersey custody lawyer Joseph D. Lento can help with your case. Contact the Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm online, or give them a call at 888-535-3686 today.