Of Counsel, Z Family Law, LLC Rockville, Maryland Custody Attorney
Parenting plans are written agrements about how parties will care for and make decisions about their children. Parenting plans cover parenting time (physical custody) - where a child lives and the amount of time the child will spend with each party; and decision-making authority (legal custody) - how major long-term decisions about a child's medical care, mental health, education, religious training, and extracurricular activities are made. Effective January 1, 2020, Maryland adopted new Rule 9-204.1 (Parenting Plans) and 9-204.2 (Joint statement of the Parties Concerning Decision-Making Authority and Parenting Time). The Maryland Parenting Plan Instructions, Maryland Parenting Plan Tool, and Joint Statement of the Parties Concerning Decision-Making Authority and Parenting Time help a party to create a parenting plan that considers important aspects of their children's best interest and welfare. The Rules set forth procedures for creating a parenting plan and the requirement to file a Joint Statement when parties are not able to reach a comprehensive parenting plan agreement.
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers has adopted a model plan that is a useful resource for developing a parenting plan.
This plan was prepared by the members of the AAML Commission on the American Law Institute (ALI) Principles of Family Dissolution. The ALI Principles propose the use of a comprehensive parenting plan in all cases where the care of a child is involved. In reviewing the Principles the Commission members were unanimous in their belief that the concept of a parenting plan was a good one and that the fellows of the Academy would benefit from having a model plan from which to work. This plan incorporates some concepts from the ALI Principles. This model can help attorneys and their clients who are parents of children subject to court orders develop parenting plans that detail the manner in which parents intend to continue caring for their children after divorce. The members of the Commission believe that the development of these plans benefits children by requiring their parents to focus on the specific needs of the children and to anticipate and address expected changes in their lives. It is hoped that such forethought,as well as agreement on how to resolve disputes that arise, will reduce future conflict that is so detrimental to children's well being.
Attorneys in all jurisdictions who represent parents in cases involving custody of a child can use this model plan. It can be modified to meet the requirements of those jurisdictions that require the filing of a parenting plan. It can also be used as a means of promoting discussion with clients about their hopes and desires for the future care of their children or as a tool for preparing for anticipated litigation by highlighting contested issues. It can also be used to make recommendations for a court order or findings.
Serving MontgomeryCounty, FrederickCounty, and Howard County
Attorneys must be sure that any state mandated provisions in their jurisdictions are included in the parenting plans they use. For instance, some state statutes and court rules address the use of dispute resolution processes before further court action is instituted. Some statutes contain specific information about the enforcement of parenting plans. Reference should be made to these state laws and provisions should be incorporated where necessary.
The plan intentionally uses the phrases "decision-making responsibility" and "parenting time" instead of "legal" and "physical custody." This terminology, used in the ALI Principles, reflects the underlying assumption that there are many ways in which parents are involved in their children's lives in ways not captured by traditional terms. In some jurisdictions the practitioner may be required to use terms required by a state statute.The plan uses the words "Mother" and "Father" for the parents. The plan can easily be adapted to situations in which other persons assume parenting responsibilities.
Clients should be informed that the court might modify a plan even if it is agreed to by them. Care should be taken to identify plan provisions that may not be enforced by a court. These might include agreements related to religious upbringing as well as those that attempt to change the standard a court would use in deciding a modification request such as a desire to relocate. The plan includes language adapted from the AAML Model Relocation Act but recognizes that state law may differ.
Attorneys should also recognize that despite parental agreement, courts might view the situation differently if there are issues of domestic violence. Most states have statutes that specifically address limitations or restrictions on parenting plans when there is domestic violence. Parents in these situations should be counseled concerning the impact of domestic violence on any family law order.
The model plan is comprehensive, but not all provisions are applicable to individual families. After the initial client consultation, the attorney will be in a better position to provide guidance on what aspects of the model plan should be given to clients to assist them in developing an appropriate plan for their families. The plan can be given to clients in a complete or abbreviated form. The model plan can be downloaded and the attorney can simply excise those sections that are deemed inapplicable.
Regardless of the form in which the plan is given to parents, the attorney's guidance remains critical. For instance, the plan specifically contains options for addressing children's needs at different developmental stages. The Commission is working on a brochure that can be given to parents reflecting the underlying assumptions of a developmentally appropriate parenting plan. In the meantime, attorneys should emphasize that parents should be aware of the unique needs of their children when drafting plans for their care.
The following article summarizes the overall post-divorce risks for children of divorce and problems with traditional visiting patterns, evaluates social science empirical research relevant to developing appropriate parenting plans for children, describes different types of co-parental post-divorce relationships, and summarizes the rationale for developing parenting plan models that offer multiple access options to parents for consideration.
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John S. Weaver, Of Counsel
Z Family Law, LLC 51 Monroe Street, Suite 1501, Rockville, MD 20850