Parenting Plans, Part 2

By Megan Parlette

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MD Rule 9-204.1

We’re back with Parenting Plans, Part 2! Earlier this year, Kim Lauer introduced the Maryland Parenting Plan Tool in her blog “Parenting Plan Basics”. Kim did a great job of explaining the “who”, “what”, and “why”, so go read her blog if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of a Parenting Plan. Today, we are going to look a little more closely at the process of completing a Parenting Plan and how this tool provides you with a framework to build a strong foundation as your family moves forward.

First of all, where can you find this thing? At your first Court appearance for your custody matter, you should receive a hard copy of the Maryland Parenting Plan Instructions and the Parenting Plan Tool, which is a worksheet to help you go through the process. These documents are also hosted on the Maryland Courts website in the Children & Family section, under Court Forms. You can open and download the Parenting Plan Tool (Form CC-DR-109), and the Maryland Parent Plan Instructions (Form CC-DRIN-109). The Court has helpfully made the worksheet into a fillable PDF, so you can start it, save it to your computer, and then edit it as needed.

Now, where do you start? It’s a good idea to first spend some time on your own reading the instructions and looking through the worksheet. Start with the big picture — who will make major decisions for your child(ren) about their medical needs, education, and religious participation? Can you and your co-parent communicate effectively to share information and to make these decisions together? If a disagreement arises, how should it be handled?

The next big question is the matter of physical custody – or parenting time, as it is written in the worksheet. When will the child(ren) be with each parent? What will happen over the holidays and summer breaks? Take the time to create a practicable schedule for both parties. You can write it out on the worksheet or mark a calendar to show the schedule. Continue through the sections of the worksheet — transportation, communication of parents and child(ren), child care, etc. Make notes on which sections you are flexible on or not. Even if you plan on sitting down with your co-parent and coming up with a plan together, it will be helpful to have thought about each of these sections ahead of time.

Don’t forget to think a bit into the future — if your teenager is getting their driver’s license soon, you may want to think about the rules and responsibilities that will come along with that new privilege. Or maybe your kid is a star soccer player and they are trying out for an elite travel team — that’s awesome, but it comes with extra expenses and time spent at practices. Who will cover the cost? Who will drive them to the early morning practices? If an away game falls on one parent’s only weekend that month, what will happen? Thinking through these possibilities now and coming up with a plan can save you time and money in the future.

Once you have an idea of your ideal parenting plan, it’s time to talk to your co-parent. This may take place directly with your co-parent, through a neutral mediator, or through your respective attorneys. It’s ok to negotiate back and forth until you find a solution that works well for your unique situation. Next, we recommend that you have an attorney look it over. Even if you and your co-parent have agreed on every aspect of the plan, having a qualified family law attorney review your plan before you sign it will provide a layer of protection for you and your family. Family law attorneys have experience in spotting plans that may not work out as intended, or where one party seems to be taking advantage of the other. An attorney can only represent one party in any legal matter, so we recommend that each party have their own attorney review the agreement.

Once you and your co-parent have agreed on your Parenting Plan and you’ve had it reviewed to your satisfaction, it’s time to sign it and submit it to the Court. If you are representing yourself, you can type up the agreed-upon terms in the Parenting Plan Tool worksheet, have both parties sign it, and submit it to the Court. If you are represented by an attorney, they may have their own template that they prefer to use.

If you really cannot come to an agreement with your co-parent (and yes, you really do have to try), the Court does provide an alternative. Once it is clear that you will not come to an agreement before your deadline, you will need to complete the Joint Statement of the Parties Concerning Decision-Making Authority and Parenting Time (Form CC-DR-110). It’s titled a “Joint Statement” because it still requires you and your co-parent to work together to complete it. Using this form, fill out each area of physical and legal custody that you and your co-parent agree or disagree on. For the areas in which you disagree, you must fill in each party’s proposed solution. Then you’ll sign and submit it to the Court.

Completing a parenting plan may seem like a daunting task, but I promise that it’s worth the time and effort. It is a powerful tool to get both parties to the table to discuss the issues in a custody dispute. Use it to resolve as much of your custody matter as possible – after all, if you leave it in the hands of the judge, you have no control over the outcome.