Creating a successful and effective parenting plan in Pennsylvania will protect your rights, the health, and the well-being of your children and save you untold frustration and difficulty. Developing the parenting plan and ensuring it complies with Pennsylvania law is an important part of your divorce and your post-divorce life. Many times a parenting plan can be negotiated and agreed to by the parties. When it cannot, your lawyers can ask the court to use your suggested plan.
When you have children and are getting divorced, you need an experienced Pennsylvania custody attorney at your side to protect both you and your children's rights. You do not have to face this difficult time alone.
Developing a Parenting Plan
Parenting plans are necessary because most people will have to share custody with their former partner. Except for cases of serious violence or abuse, most parents are awarded shared custody rather than sole custody. Preparing yourself for these negotiations can help you make a reasoned and informed decision about your parenting rights and obligations.
Developing a parenting plan requires communication with your attorney and negotiation with your soon-to-be former spouse. Collaboration between the parties is usually the most effective and efficient system for developing a plan that everyone can live by. A plan that all can agree to saves the cost of litigating the issue and the incredible headache that can result from a plan the other spouse refuses to stick to.
A parenting plan ensures that all parties understand the expectations involved with:
- parenting responsibilities,
- transportation, and
- aspects of the children's lives.
The parenting plan is the blueprint that both parents will follow until their children reach adulthood. Unless the plan is modified, the decisions that parents make in their plan will shape their lives for years to come. For this reason, it is important to make a parenting plan that accurately reflects the parents' wishes, is feasible for both parents in the long-term, and is detailed enough to adapt to changes over time. With the help of experienced Pennsylvania divorce lawyer Joseph D. Lento and the Family Law Team, you can develop a parenting plan that will work for you and your family.
When Parents Cannot Agree
Sometimes, parents cannot agree to a parenting plan. When this is the case, it will ultimately be up to the court to determine what is in the best interests of the children. The court will focus on the kids, not on what is convenient for either of the parents.
In many cases, the parents are able to agree to some things, or even most things, but not all. When this is the case, the parenting plan can be negotiated and agreed to for as many terms as the parents can agree. For whatever remains that cannot be negotiated, each party will then have to submit proposals to the court about what they believe to be the answer that is in the best interests of the children.
A judge can consider certain factors when determining what parenting plan to adopt, including, but not limited to:
- the relationship with the parents and the children
- if the child has special needs
- the child's wishes and desires, if the child is old enough
- whether a particular aspect of the plan is what is best for the child
- convenience of the parties
When parents cannot agree, the use of an experienced Pennsylvania divorce lawyer is essential to getting a plan in front of the judge that protects the interests of you and your children.
Contents of a Pennsylvania Parenting Plan
When parents are applying for joint custody especially, most Pennsylvania courts require parenting plans to be submitted. This can be a negotiated and stipulated agreement, or if the parties cannot agree, each party's suggested parenting plan.
A parenting plan can include, but is not limited to:
- childcare guidelines and details
- child custody determinations
- legal custody issues
- physical custody issues
- child support
- schedule for custody, visitation, and care of the children
- transportation arrangements, including pick-ups from school or to after-school activities
- transfer of custody times and locations
- vacation schedules
- education details
- religious involvement details, if any
- a procedure to resolve disputes that arise in the future
- holiday time
- healthcare decisions and funding
- communication directives (how to communicate with the other parent)
Putting as many details as necessary into the parenting plan helps to save you from a future legal battle over small details. Deciding things like which parent will go to school conferences and having a plan to work out future conflicts can help parties co-parent successfully for years. It can even resolve what could otherwise be major and costly legal battles, not to mention the amount of time and energy wasted battling with your former spouse (or soon-to-be former spouse).
Does the Court Require a Parenting Plan?
Technically, under Pennsylvania law, a judge may require the parties to submit a parenting plan but is not required to do so. However, most judges do require the submission of a parenting plan as part of the divorce proceedings. Parenting plans help the court to understand what the best interests of the children are and how they will be protected by the suggested plan.
The law also sets forth a certain way that parenting plans submitted to the court should look. With an experienced parenting plan lawyer at your side, you will know that your proposed agreement complies with the court's requirements.
Mediation as an Alternative - Negotiating Your Parenting Plan
Mediation is often an effective way to negotiate a parenting plan. Mediation involves the use of a neutral third party who comes in and sits with each of the parties both separately and together in an effort to achieve a mutually agreed upon agreement. The mediator will speak with both parties in an effort to figure out where common ground exists and foster agreement based upon that common ground.
Mediation can be especially helpful when parents disagree on issues like custody arrangements, visitation schedules, and child support payments. A mediator can help parents work toward a middle ground. Additionally, a mediator can help parents address issues they may not have considered previously or new issues that arise during the negotiations.
An effective mediator can help to resolve many areas where an agreement was not thought possible. The mediator can work with you and your attorney to address each of your concerns and effectively communicate those concerns with the other parent. With healthy negotiation, much, if not all, of the parenting plan can be agreed to. This can save time, money, and frustration.
Changing an Existing Parenting Plan
The terms of a parenting plan are not set in stone, and the judge's order may need to change over time. Changing or modifying a parenting plan can be a relatively simple process or a major legal fight depending on your situation and your relationship with your former partner.
Parents cannot change their parenting plan for any reason. The law requires the parent requesting the modification to prove that they have a material and substantial change in circumstances that warrants changing the court's order. Usually, a parent would have to show that a change of custody is warranted because of a change in jobs, a proposed relocation, a serious injury or illness that affects a parent's ability to care for the children, allegations of abuse or neglect, a change in living situation, or claims that one parent is withholding visitation from the other.
In the best-case scenario, parents can mutually agree to change their parenting plan. For instance, if one parent gets a new job and can no longer care for the children during certain days or hours, the parents can decide to work out their schedule between themselves. They can submit an agreed modified parenting plan that reflects their new situation, and a judge would likely approve it quickly.
When parents cannot agree to modify their parenting plan themselves, a judge will have to decide if a modification to the parenting plan is warranted. Courts are generally hesitant to modify an existing parenting plan unless there is good cause. Even if there is cause, the judge still has an obligation to act in the best interests of the children involved in the case. Using the same analysis as in the initial custody decision, a judge will consider factors like the risk of harm to the child, each parent's ability to care for the child, each parent's relationship with the child, the child's needs and desires, and the child's need for stability.
Modifying an existing parenting plan can be difficult, but an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney can help. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team understand how to create and modify parenting plans that will help you spend as much time with your children as possible.
Consult a Pennsylvania Divorce Lawyer
Parenting plans are an incredibly important part of your Pennsylvania divorce and your post-divorce life. It will protect the rights and best interests of your children, as well as your own. It is always better to understand the responsibilities of each of the parties, as well as to create a process through which disagreements can be handled without having to go to court.
If you are in the midst of a divorce or are having trouble with your former spouse, experienced Pennsylvania divorce and custody attorney Joseph D. Lento can help with your case. Contact us today for a consultation of your case, or call us at 888-535-3686.