Often, the biggest concern for parents who are facing the breakdown of a marriage is how to limit its negative effects on their children. When divorcing parents can agree on key details, the custody process may be easier for everyone. Capturing those details in a parenting agreement—or parenting plan—benefits the parents and the court. Instead of fighting over every aspect of raising children, parents with a parenting plan can refer to it for guidance and ask the court to enforce it. A parenting agreement also helps children by reducing friction between their parents over day-to-day decisions. Learn more about the importance of a parenting plan below.
Parenting agreements are required for custody disputes unless other circumstances arise, like sole legal custody. While parenting agreements can help guide a court toward specific outcomes, the court will still thoroughly review the facts and, ultimately, make decisions based on the child’s best interests. Additionally, Connecticut has a statutory requirement that parents involved in custody decisions attend parenting classes.
The court’s custody determination covers many aspects of a child’s care and will address legal and physical custody. Physical custody refers to the actual care and housing of a child, while legal custody refers to the rights and responsibilities to make decisions for the child’s welfare—such as discipline and schooling.
A parenting agreement commonly provides that both parents will have legal and physical custody of a child, also known as joint custody. Joint custody does not mean that physical custody is shared equally. Instead, the parties in a parental agreement will need to indicate how they plan to share physical custody. Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-56a-a allows the court to award joint legal custody without awarding joint physical custody. That means parents must make explicit each parent’s custody. Unless the evidence warrants otherwise, courts presume that joint custody is in the best interests of the child.
The most important aspect of a parenting agreement is that it be written down and available to all parties, as well as others, like childcare providers. It should detail the duties and rights of each parent in caring for their children. Key details include guidance on:
Parenting plans should also contain information on possible future disputes over the contents of the agreement, including the best methods for protecting the children from disagreements. It should also address how to manage the children’s interests as they mature and a radius within which parents and children can relocate without the need for court intervention.
Naturally, parents who are in the process of dissolving a marriage may not be able to agree on every detail of child-rearing. In those circumstances, a Family Relations Officer from the court may be appointed as a mediator to the divorcing parents. If mediation fails, the court may use portions of the parenting plan in its final order, though it will always defer to the best interests of the children.
A completed parenting plan can be submitted to the court. Once submitted, the court will review the agreement, consider the facts, make revisions, and determine the extent to which it will include it in its final order. Sometimes, the court may find the entire agreement appropriate and approve it as an order. In such cases, if one parent departs from the agreement, the other can sue to enforce its terms.
Creating a parenting agreement is an intensive process that involves a lot of planning and details. Parenting plans can have an important impact on custody matters and should be drafted carefully.
Parents commonly feel overwhelmed when considering parenting plans. Our team can help parents draft parenting plans, no matter where you are in the process of negotiating custody. Call today for help negotiating a parenting plan, preparing for mediation, or advocating for your parenting plan in court.