There are many terms, topics, and scenarios to consider when designing and drafting a parenting plan or parenting agreement. Subjects that need to be covered range from when each parent visits/spends time with the child to how you and your co-parent will resolve important decisions concerning your child or children. Decisions you may face could include where your children attend school or how your child religious upbringing will be managed by you and your co-parent. Parenting plans, by definition, are wide-ranging documents.
The most important thing to keep in mind when writing your plan is to keep every issue centered on maintaining your children’s well-being and focused on their best interests, including maintaining a healthy relationship with each parent.
A comprehensive Parenting Plan will address and define the following terms (if and when applicable) to your unique situation:
Physical Custody Arrangement refers to where a child will primarily live and which parent cares for them on a daily basis. Physical Custody implies “primary residence” and aligns with whichever parent (if not both) has the child living with them the majority of the time.
Legal Custody Arrangement refers to a parent’s decision-making authority/rights with respect to their child. The related decisions typically revolve around education, healthcare, religion, and general upbringing.
Visitation typically refers to the parenting time given to a noncustodial parent. This often refers to the Visitation Schedule, which sets the specific dates, times, and locations of when the noncustodial parent sees the child. Visitation is the more specific term.
Transitions, Drop-offs, and Pick-ups can be difficult and confusing times for a child (some more than others depending on their age, maturity level, and emotional capacity). Transitions may not always be smooth and that is okay. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t want to go with the other parent or are never going to adjust to their new schedule. It helps to have a plan and to use strategies to de-escalate stress levels during transitions:
Supervised Visitation can be ordered in under certain circumstances depending on the facts of a case. This is done if it is determined by a judge that one parent poses a threat to the child, or there are valid concerns about a parent’s ability to care for a child. A judge can order supervised visitation if he or she believes that it’s necessary for the child’s safety and well-being.
Overnights refers to specific parenting time given to a noncustodial parent where the child goes to sleep at that parent’s house and wakes the next day at that parent’s house. The visitation itself continues from one day to the next.
Health Insurance Coverage – State and federal laws require that children have health insurance coverage. Parents need to decide which parent will pay for this coverage (C.G.S. § 46b-84). If one parent has a better health insurance policy and/or can obtain coverage at the least cost, that parent will likely be required to continue providing coverage for the children. The payments made toward health insurance will be considered in the process of calculating child support.
Uncovered Expenses – (Un–reimbursed medical, dental, orthodontia, therapists, tutors, extra-curricular expenses, automobile, cell phones, etc.) – You should discuss all of these areas “in advance” with your co-parent and have a clear plan in place for splitting these costs whether these costs are expected or unexpected; permissible or not permissible.
Daycare – If one or more children need to attend daycare so either or both of you can work, the parenting plan should specify how much each pays towards these costs. The division of these costs is also considered in the child support obligation of each party.
School Selection and educational decision making – If you cannot reach agreement with your co-parent, you will need to commence court proceedings and ask a family law judge to make an order about where your child will attend school. Remember, going to court is expensive and it can take a long time to get a judgment. Court proceedings should be an absolute last resort.
School Participation (Parents)
School Record Access and Notifications
School Extra-Curricular Activities, Sports and Child Participation – A process for reasonable and advanced making decision regarding the child’s participation in future extracurricular activities (including things like sports, dance, theater, and college prep) should be determined in a parenting plan.
Paying for College – A clear plan for the payment and/or financing of college tuition is an important part of a well-designed Parenting Plan.
If you and the other parent have been contributing to a college fund for your children, it is worth discussing how that process will continue. Parents may decide to continue contributing jointly to a college savings plan or trust fund, or both parents may decide to start a savings account on their own.
Connecticut Law allows courts to order parents to help pay for their children’s education expenses, so long as there is a finding that the parents would have contributed to a child’s education had the family remained intact.
An Educational Support Order is a court order requiring a parent to provide support for a child or children to attend a higher education institution or a private occupational school for up to a total of four full academic years to attain a bachelor’s or other undergraduate degree, or other appropriate vocational instruction. Both parents must participate in the decision as to which institution of higher education or private occupational school the child will attend. If the parents fail to reach an agreement, the court may make an order to resolve the matter (CGS § 46b-56c).
While child support orders typically end when children turn 18 years old or are emancipated, Connecticut courts may order divorcing parents to support their children until the age of 23 years if enrolled in college or a vocational training program. Such orders may include expenses for tuition, room, board, books, fees, application costs and medical and dental care.
A Connecticut Court can only order either parent to contribute towards the education of a child up to the amount of in-state tuition for the University of Connecticut (aka the “UConn Cap”).
Factors the Court Must Consider in an Educational Support Order
The court considers several factors when determining educational support orders, including:
Eligibility for Payment in an Educational Support Order
To qualify for payments under an educational support order, the child must:
If a child fails to comply with these conditions, the order is suspended after any academic period during which the noncompliance occurs
Developing a plan for the religious guidance of a child/children can be a complex matter in a parenting plan depending on the circumstances.
For example, you and your co-parent may:
While your Parenting Plan will not be able to eliminate every potential conflict associated with respect to religion (especially as you kids grow older and develop their views and preferences), a good Parenting Plan will try to anticipate as many conflicts as possible and minimize them.
That said, here are a few thoughts and ideas to keep in mind:
Keep in mind that the First Amendment limits the authority of courts to restrict each parent’s right to share religious beliefs, traditions, and practices with children. The state can limit parental authority in matters of religious upbringing based on the best interests of the child.
Your parenting plan will force you to think about updating and re-defining your holiday traditions (how, when, where and with whom you celebrate them).
Define your essential holidays clearly and comprehensively. For example, if a particular holiday has a unique or is of particular significance to one parent then it should be specifically noted in your holiday scheduling blueprint. Another way to add clarity to your planning and schedule would be to note which holidays will be celebrated by both parents, dividing the time of the holiday between the parents on a set scheduled.
Work well out in advance (years out if necessary)
Parents often decide to split the hours of a holiday between the two households. If that’s the case, then the parenting plan should reflect, down to the hour, the specific times that the child will be with each parent and in which years (i.e. one parent in odd-numbered years and the other parent in even-numbered years).
This may sound appealing, but in practice it can be difficult for the child, so make sure this approach best suits the child (not the parents). Be mindful if, instead of celebrating, the child will have to spend a good chunk of the day travelling between the two households. Ensure that meal schedules and other activities are complementary. Be cognizant that switching mid-day might be even more difficult during COVID, for all of the above reasons and more.
Alternating Holidays/Alternating Years
A common approach that families use is to have children switch back-and-forth between parents, in successive holidays.
Vacations (Scheduling and Ground Rules) – If formulating clear, flaw-proof vacation schedule for your parenting plan were as simple as alternating school breaks (Fall and Winter) and dividing up the summer months the world would be a happier place. The problem is always developing a decision-making, approval method, and process for consent to efficiently deal with inevitable the exceptions, last minute opportunities, and family events (weddings, funerals, anniversaries, milestone celebrations, etc.) Compromise and flexibility is always the best method for parents with shared custody to determine one-time vacation schedules and trips without involving the courts.
Here are topics that you may want to specifically address when defining ground rules:
Celebration Special Occasions – Identifying special occasions and defining an equitable plan to share time in the best interest of the child(ren) is easier said than done. Among the more difficult occasions to consider in this category are the following:
The best interests of the child are the primary concern of the court when the court must determine how a child will split time with parents on special occasions. The court wants all decisions on custody, including where holidays are spent, to result in an outcome which allows a child to best maintain strong family ties and to have a stable home life.
Because of the importance of maintaining strong relationships with both parents and with extended family members on both sides of the family, arrangements on holidays and special occasions should be reciprocal whenever possible. Children should spend the same amount of time, or close to the same amount of time, with each of the parents. However, family arrangements must also be practical and must make sense in light of the lifestyle of the children and the family.
Each different special occasion, therefore, must be divided based on what is reasonable as well as what is most advantageous to helping the child to create strong family memories and foster family ties.
On a practical level, co-parenting will require the regular sharing and exchange of important information about your child(ren) (e.g. school, medical, activities, general well-being, etc.). It therefore very important for you and your co-parent to decide how you will communicate and formally share this information:
You will want to consider the methods that will allow you to maintain the most accurate and comprehensive records.