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If you are a parent beginning the divorce process, it is only a matter of time before you and your spouse must begin discussing a parenting plan. You and your spouse are required to try to create a mutually agreed upon parenting plan before your divorce is finalized.

If you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement on your own, you must attend mediation to try to reach an agreement. If you cannot agree even after mediation, each parent may submit a proposed parenting plan to the court, and the court will decide which plan is best for your child.

Legal decision-making versus parenting time

A parenting plan is a proposal made to the court detailing how legal decision-making and parenting time will be divided between you and your spouse. Legal decision-making refers to a parent’s right to make non-emergency decisions about the child’s upbringing. This can include decisions about education, health care, religion and others.

Legal decision-making can be sole or joint. This means one parent, alone, may have the right to make important upbringing decisions, or parents may share in decision-making responsibilities.

Parenting time refers to the scheduled time each parent has access to the child. During your scheduled parenting time, you are responsible for providing food, housing and other necessary care for your child.

In addition to describing decision-making authority and parenting time, your parenting plan should include a procedure for exchanging your child. It should also include a procedure for communicating to each other about your child and a procedure for reviewing the parenting plan again when needed.

The child should come first

The best interests of your child should always come first in legal matters that affect him or her. When the court must decide on a parenting plan, it will typically choose the plan that allows shared decision-making and maximizes each parent’s parenting time. However, before approving a parenting plan, the court will consider your child’s best interests above all else.

Although the court can consider anything relevant to a child’s physical or emotional well-being, some common considerations include:

  • The child’s relationship and interactions with important family members
  • The child’s adjustment to home, school and the community
  • The child’s wishes
  • Any history of domestic violence
  • The mental and physical health of each parent and the child
  • If one parent is more likely to allow the child meaningful contact with the other parent

It can be difficult to collaborate with your spouse during the divorce process. However, parents are often able to have more control over the details of a parenting plan when they work together to create it. This collaboration is also a good way to meet a child’s best interests because the resulting parenting plan can be tailored to your family’s unique situation.