Developing a Parenting Plan in Divorce
By Heather Baker-Mushkatel on December 5, 2017
Couples who go through a divorce in Arizona can face many obstacles. For instance, they need to divide their property, and they may need to determine the terms of a spousal support arrangement. If they are parents, they will also need to create a parenting plan.
A parenting plan is a document that reflects the decisions that parents make about legal decision making and parenting time for their children. Legal decision making refers to who will make major decisions about the child’s life such as where the child goes to school. Parenting time refers to the actual time a parent spends with his or her children. The law in Arizona presumes equal decision making and equal parenting time for both parents.
Parents should create a parenting plan that addresses their family’s unique circumstances. They can arrive at the plan by working with lawyers, counselors, mediators and, ultimately, with each other.
Why Are Parenting Plans Necessary in a Divorce?
Without a parenting plan, no legal framework exists for many aspects of a child’s life. You need a parenting plan to answer questions such as:
● Where will the child live?
● Which parent will make decisions about the child’s day care, education, medical care and religious upbringing?
● Where will the child spend holidays and vacation periods?
● How will disputes between parents get resolved?
If you and your spouse cannot work together to create a parenting plan, you will have to go to court. This is not an ideal situation. Going to court can be expensive, time-consuming and stressful. Additionally, after both sides present evidence, a judge will have the final say – not the parents.
What Should You Consider When You Develop a Parenting Plan?
Many parents find it is difficult to develop a parenting plan. This is especially true if the parents harbor bad feelings towards each other. However, even though you may have a strained relationship with the other parent, you can find ways to agree on a parenting plan. Here are some important things to consider:
● Your child’s best interests. The best interests of your child should serve as your top priority and carry the most weight in your decision-making process. Sure, you may be mad at the other parent. However, you should never use your child as a way to “get back” at the parent. Instead, focus on a plan that will best meet your child’s needs.
● Your ability to care for your child. Many parents are not ready to face the challenges of being a single parent. For instance, if you suffer from emotional distress, work full-time and plan to move into a one-bedroom apartment that is far from the child’s relatives and friends, will you really place your child in the best situation? Do you really want to fight to be designated the primary custodial parent, or would shared parenting time make more sense for you? You should give this factor serious consideration.
● The other parent’s love for the child. In the middle of a divorce, it can be very easy to get wrapped up in emotions. Don’t forget, the other parent has emotions, too. You should consider the love that the parent has for your child. In other words, you should try to understand the other parent’s perspective, which can help you to come to an agreement with that parent.
● Others can provide great assistance. If you and your spouse hit an impasse in the formation of your parenting plan, or if you are unsure about what elements to include or exclude, you should seek help from one or more professionals. School counselors, teachers, mental health professionals, mediators and a lawyer can all provide tremendous assistance.
What Are Key Elements of a Successful Parenting Plan?
You should make sure that you include the following key elements in your parenting plan:
● A clear schedule for time sharing, including during the week and weekends, holidays and vacation periods
● A transportation plan that covers trips between each parent’s house
● Which parent will handle certain responsibilities such as staying with the child when the child is sick and cannot go to school
● How information about the child will be relayed from one parent to the other
● How parents will resolve child custody-related disputes if they occur
● How the parents will share financial responsibilities
● Who will make decisions about important elements of the child’s life, from whether the child will be allowed to own a cell phone to what church the child will attend.
You should cover any other items that are important to you and your family. You know your own situation better than anyone else, so you should not be afraid to speak up and ask for inclusion of those items in the parenting plan.
Do You Need Help with Your Parenting Plan?
If you need help with forming a parenting plan in Arizona, the family law attorneys of Mushkatel, Robbins & Becker, PLLC, can help you. We can represent you during the formation of a parenting plan, negotiate with the other parent on your behalf and review a parenting plan before it is finalized. If you need to go to court and present your case before a judge, we can represent you during this process, too. Contact us today to discuss your case.
Heather Baker-Mushkatel is an Arizona native who focuses in the area of family at Mushkatel, Robbins & Becker, PLLC. Heather also has substantial experience in criminal defense law, including a background as a public defender in Maricopa County. Heather earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and obtained her Juris Doctorate from Brooklyn Law School. She is a highly active member of state and local bar associations who has served on several panels to educate young lawyers and law students.