One of the most important aspects of a divorce involving children is the “Parenting Plan.” A Parenting Plan is a court order that includes visitation rights, decision-making rights, and child support obligations of the parents after a divorce, including health insurance coverage for the children. We previously posted detailed information about the legal requirements for Parenting Plans in Texas. Here at NMSB, a family attorney can help you develop a Parenting Plan that fits the needs of your family. Here are some considerations:
WHAT ARE YOUR CHILD’S NEEDS?
Texas law prioritizes the child’s “best interest,” and a Parenting Plan should aim to take each child’s needs into consideration. Texas child custody law includes standard provisions for possession time by each parent, conservatorship (a.k.a. “rights and duties” or “custody”), and child support. See our “Child Custody” FAQ’s for more details.
These standard provisions are often the starting point for settlement agreements, and judges regularly rely on these standard provisions in court. These laws are designed to encourage co-parenting and allow both parents to share time with the child.
However, a family attorney can help you address your child’s needs through a Parenting Plan created during your divorce. Here at NMSB, we understand that each child has unique needs. For example, the visitation schedule for an infant will look very different from the visitation schedule for a 12-year old. Or, if one parent lives out-of-state, the Parenting Plan will have to address travel arrangements for the child. Other special considerations can include:
- How well the parents can co-parent after the divorce
- Whether the case is a contested custody case
- The age of the child
- Where each parent lives
- Safety issues, including domestic violence
- Financial resources of each parent
- Special educational or medical needs of the child
WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS ON ADDRESSING MY CHILD’S NEEDS?
Many Parenting Plans remain in effect until a child reaches adulthood, and it is difficult to anticipate every need a child will have. At the time of divorce, your child may be taking piano lessons or may be very young and have an early bedtime. These circumstances naturally evolve over time. To allow flexibility in the future, we find it is best to limit what we include in the Parenting Plan. This also allows each parent some autonomy to set rules and expectations in his or her own home. For example, the Parenting Plan will not prescribe exact bedtimes or the child’s activities for years to come.
IS MY PARENTING PLAN ENFORCEABLE?
In a word, Yes! At the end of every divorce or child custody case, a judge will sign and approve the Parenting Plan. Once the judge signs the Parenting Plan, it is an enforceable court order. If one parent refuses to comply with the Parenting Plan, the judge retains the power to enforce his or her order. This can include the power to make further orders, to require the payment of attorney’s fees, or, in extreme circumstances, to sentence the offending parent to jail.
Parenting Plans are very detailed by nature and impose specific duties on each parent. For example, every visitation schedule includes the days and exact times that each visit begins and ends. A Parenting Plan may specify that the children may only live in the city of Austin. These details leave little room for one parent to exercise unfair control over the children. When one parent violates the Parenting Plan, a judge can then step in and enforce the order.
HOW WE CAN HELP
At NMSB, we have years of experience in assisting parents with the creation of a parenting plan for the unique needs of our clients. Please contact our office and schedule an appointment to discuss your case further.