What Is A Parenting Plan And Why Is It Needed?

A parenting plan is just a list of agreed upon rules pertaining to what parents would do under certain circumstances. Parenting plans can differ greatly. A parenting plan can include restraining orders due to certain types of conduct, like disparaging the other party in front of the child. It can restrain drinking around the child if drinking has been a risk in the past. It can really include any provision that would benefit the child at all. How parents are going to resolve conflicts, if there are weddings and funerals that for which parents need to accommodate each other, under what circumstances school attendance would be excused.

If a parent has sole legal custody, then a parenting plan is not required by the court. For any joint legal or joint physical custody arrangement, there needs to be a parenting plan in place. So if a party is going to put in their petition that they want joint legal or joint physical custody, they are required to actually include their proposed parenting plan with their original petition. However, the parenting plan usually ends up being negotiated during mediation and is typically not a huge area of conflict. Most parents are able to indicate which portion of the parenting plan is important to them. There are times where it can be in conflict if there is substance abuse or anything that might require supervision of one parent’s parenting time.

Does A Parenting Plan Need To Be In Place Prior To The Determination Of Custody?

A parenting plan is generally put implemented at the same time that custody is decided either by agreement of the parties, or by court after trial. Whether you need a parenting plan as to your day to day needs is determined on a case by case basis. Some parents are able to get along so well that they don’t really need a parenting plan because they cooperate consistently. Other parents lack insight as to what is in the best interests of their children, so they need reminders and the parenting plan is a good reminder. Other times, parental conflict just flat out requires enforcement of the parenting plan because one side’s behavior is so egregious.

When Is Permanent Custody Decided?

Permanent custody is decided either by trial, or if the parties reach agreement regarding the final issues in writing. Parties also have an opportunity to file a motion for temporary orders. Divorce cases and custody cases often take up to a year or more. Not always, but they can. Once a party files a petition, it is very common for one side to file a motion asking that temporary custody, temporary child support, temporary alimony, temporary division of the home and those kinds of issues be decided which would not be binding on the trial court in trial.

These orders, once decided, would not be permanent but they would at least be enforceable until the court makes its final custody determination. Once a party files a motion for temporary orders, usually a hearing can be scheduled about 6 weeks later.

What Happens If Both Parents Cannot Agree On A Custodial Arrangement?

Sometimes parents may agree to custody on a temporary basis, but they may not agree on a permanent basis. If the parties disagree on temporary orders, then one of them will file a motion for temporary custody and the other side will oppose that. On a permanent basis, if they can’t agree, then it will go to trial and a court will decide. Oftentimes, when considering when to mediate, one side lacks sufficient information or lacks sufficient evidence to feel comfortable in trying to negotiate.

They have to engage in “discovery,” (which includes depositions, subpoenas, evaluations like a custody evaluation, interrogatories, requests for admission, requests for production of documents, etc.) to gather information and evidence so that they will be in a better negotiating position. So if parents can’t agree on a custody arrangement immediately, one of the next inquiries that they need to make is what information do I need that could help me determine whether to go forward, or whether to settle for something less than what I want.

In Utah, every domestic case must be mediated at some point before trial. The court will not schedule trial unless it has been mediated first. However, there is nothing which indicates when it has to be mediated. It could be mediated before the petition was filed, just after the petition was filed or after the case has been pending for a year. When to mediate is a strategic decision the parties should consider carefully. Generally one may be ill advised to mediate unless they have some degree of leverage over the other side, either by having a good deal of information and evidence that supports their case, or they have done well at the temporary orders hearing, so they are in no rush to resolve the case.

Let’s suppose a parent has been awarded temporary custody and they are receiving temporary child support. Time is on their side. That gives them a significant advantage because temporary orders have a way of becoming permanent, just because the temporary order develops a “status quo.” It solidifies who has primary caretaker status. So if you can’t reach an agreement, you decide what information is needed or if there is a different way to gain leverage so that you can either renegotiate with the other side or be in an advantageous position at trial.

For more information on Parenting Plans In Utah, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 616-3301 today.

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*Child Welfare Law Specialist Nat’l Assoc. of Counsel for Children