In a Connecticut divorce involving minor children, the parties must have a Parenting Plan. In a Parenting Plan, child-related issues are addressed. These issues include a definition of legal custody, a parental access schedule, and other provisions such as relocation, communication, and travel notification. Parenting Plans may be agreed to by the parties or ordered by a Court after a Hearing or Trial. In any event, a Parenting Plan must be in the children’s best interests and must be realistic for the parties to follow. Parenting Plans are typically divided into three sections:
- Definition of legal custody
- Parental access schedule
- Important miscellaneous provisions
The first component of a Parenting Plan is a definition of legal custody. Legal custody is how major decisions, such as health, education, and religion, are decided. It can be shared one of three ways: jointly, one party having the right to make a final decision in the event of an impasse after good faith consultation with the other party, or one party having the sole right to make decisions. Legal custody, regardless of form, should always be defined in a Parenting Plan.
The second component of a Parenting Plan, simply put, is the parental access schedule. This includes a week-to-week schedule, as well as a holiday and vacation schedule. These schedules are by no means “one size fits all.” The schedules can take many different forms, but they must ultimately be realistic as to what both parties can do, and what is best for the children. The parenting schedule often gets confused with “custody,” however, it should be thought of as a schedule. That schedule may have the children spending more time with one parent or an equal amount of parenting time for both parents. Holidays and vacations, depending on the family’s customs and traditions, may be shared and alternated or a parent may be assigned certain holidays. Additionally, parties often elect to share a portion of the children’s summer vacation with each parent having a week or two of time to travel with the children. These weeks may be consecutive or non-consecutive.
The third component of a Parenting Plan consists of various miscellaneous, yet important provisions. This may include provisions related to a Parenting Coordinator—an individual engaged by the parties to assist them with communication and decisions regarding decisions. Every Parenting Plan should include language prohibiting disparagement of one party by another, as well as the right for both parents to have access to educational and medical records and attend conferences and activities. Parenting Plans may address the introduction of new significant others to the children. Parenting Plans should also include provisions regarding travel notifications, which require parents to give advance notice and details regarding travel with the children. Some parents include a provision regarding a “right of first refusal,” which allows the non-scheduled parent the option of caring for the children if the scheduled parent is unavailable for a certain period of time. Another important provision is relocation. This provision addresses the situation where one parent wishes to move away from where they were residing at the time the Parenting Plan was made an Order of the Court. Typically, a relocation provision permits a parent to freely move with the children within a certain radius of miles. If a parent wishes to move outside of that radius, he or she will usually need to first obtain written consent from the other parent or a Court Order. Finally, if one or both parents have issues with drugs or alcohol, provisions regarding testing and consequences in the event of a positive test should be included.
It is important to note that Parenting Plans can be modified if there has been a change in circumstances such that the Parenting Plan is no longer consistent with the best interests of the children.
Our local divorce attorneys at Broder Orland Murry & DeMattie LLC are skilled in working with our clients to prepare a Parenting Plan consistent with your children’s best interests. We understand this issue is of the utmost importance in a Connecticut divorce involving minor children.