Do I Need a Parenting Plan? A Lawyer’s Perspective

Written By: Dana K. Smith, Esq.

A big part of being an attorney is that everyone, from your neighbor, to Uncle Jim, to the cable guy, has a question or scenario they want to run by for your legal advice. Most of the time, I can certainly understand where these questions are coming from. Attorneys, by their very nature, are costly and if it’s possible to receive a little bit of free legal advice, people are more than willing to take that chance. Some of the legal questions I receive are great. Others questions… well that’s a story for a different article.

But, in general, I’m of the opinion that, for lawyers, giving advice and educating someone on a legal nuance they might not know very much about is a vital part of the job. Thus, I plan to use this blog weekly (or as often I can) to impart a little bit of legal knowledge on stuff I think people need to know more about. So if you feel like you have something that would be good for an article, please shoot me an email and I’ll do my best to write about it. With that being said… enough editorializing for me. Let’s get to it.

I want to start this series off on right foot by addressing issues regarding Parenting Plans. Generally, when two people have a child or children (whether married or not), if they go to Court regarding the rights of the parents with respect to their children, the Court will require them to set up a Parenting Plan. The Parent Plan basically sets forth each parents’ responsibilities to the minor child.

So, for example, the Parenting Plan will specifically state who gets which child on what days, where the children go for certain holidays, what happens if one parent wants to move, what school the children go to, and pretty much every other possible parenting scenario that could arise. Parenting Plans certainly aren’t perfect, but they are a great starting point for parents when there are questions about what happens in certain scenarios with their children. Additionally, Parenting Plans are just a guide, so if the parents agree they want to do something different than what the plan specifically states, they are well within their rights to do so.

I hear what you are saying… “I thought this was supposed to be a column about advice. You’re already telling me stuff I already know.” Well don’t close your browser yet because here comes the reveal. Barring extraordinary circumstances, if you have children and are no longer together with the other parent, do yourself a favor and GET A PARENTING PLAN. You may think I’m kidding, but follow me on this one.

Let’s just say, for example, in some no so distant future world you and Brad Pitt (since, you know, he’s single now) have two beautiful children, Jennifer and Angelina (he apparently really liked those names). However, despite the luxurious life you two are living, another women catches Brad’s eye while filming Mr. & Mrs. Smith 2 (okay… I’ll stop). At first, you guys are amicable enough to be reasonable regarding when each of you will see the kiddos and any other parenting issues that arise.

However, the cease fire doesn’t last long. When Mr. & Mrs. Smith 2 premieres, you get heated seeing Brad and his new leading lady all over TMZ and E-News. You get so angry that one night, you have a few too many glasses of red wine and you call Brad to tell him that you never even saw Interview with a Vampire and that Se7en wasn’t even that good. The phone call turns into a full on World War Z. Brad, who has never had to deal with such rejection, in turn tells you that he won’t be sending the kids back to you this weekend and, instead, he is planning on spending Seven Years in Tibet with your kids.

Your first call is to the police to complain that Brad Pitt, former boyfriend, is refusing to return your children. And do you know what the police do? After asking multiple times whether the person who took your kids was THAT Brad Pitt and making it known how much they loved The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which, of course, infuriates you even more), they ask to look at a copy of your Parenting Plan. But wait, you and Brad were amicable up until this point so you never took the time to actually make one. And, unfortunately, you have nothing in writing. I hate to tell you this, but do you know what the police can do in this situation? Unless your kids are in some sort of danger with Brad (such as him putting them in a Fight Club), there really isn’t much they can do for you. So unfortunately, the best the Police can do is to advise you to file something in Court.

This, my friends, is the reason why Parenting Plans are so important. They regulate those circumstances where a dispute arises between the two parents and also guides the police in what steps they should take in those situations. And don’t give me “Oh the child’s parent and myself have such great relationship so nothing like this could ever happen” garbage. In fact, if you guys do work well together, then now is the absolute perfect time to do set one up.

Relationships change all of the time and the best of friends can end up the worst of enemies. Even Abbott and Costello hated each other in the end. Save yourself from the stress and angst of the courtroom by setting up a Parenting Plan while the parties are still amicable. If you wait until the relationship has deteriorated to the point of Court action being necessary, expect the process extremely drawn out and costly for both parties. All necessary forms are all available online and there are plenty of wonderful attorneys around the area who would certainly help you with any questions you might have.

So, in closing, allow me to impart this important wisdom to you. If you have a child and you are no longer together with the other parent, worth together to set up a Parenting Plan. It’s one of the best things you can do to plan for parenting your child. Because let’s be honest, even Brad Pitt could stoop low enough to Snatch your kid from you.