Parenting plans and child custody in Utah

Creating a viable parenting plan can help set expectations for both the child and parents and can lessen the potential for surprises and conflict

If you have children, one of the most important documents that you create during your divorce proceeding will be the parenting plan. This plan is part of your child custody agreement and if you have any form of a shared custody agreement, you will have to submit a parenting plan.

The parenting plan is essentially the blueprint for you and your child's other parent for raising the child. It will detail the type of custody, the rules you and your former spouse will abide by, the parental decision-making authority you will be granted and much of the specifics of your custody arrangement, including the time your child will spend with each parent.

If you and your child's other parent can work together to create a parenting plan, it will likely be more successful than if the court has to impose an agreement. You and your attorney should sit down and work through the form that the Utah courts provide as a template.

An important guide

This process will provide a good overview of what your parenting plan will look like and will make you think through many of the variations of your relationship with your child and your former spouse. You may discover aspects of your future that may not have otherwise occurred to you.

For instance, your plan will indicate how you will allocate the child's birthdays, but don't forget about your own birthday, as you will likely want your child to be available to spend the day with you.

Decision-making authority

A few things cannot be altered by the parenting plan. Each parent retains the day-to-day decision making when their child is with them and both parents always have authority to make emergency decisions related to the child's health or safety.

The residential schedule for the child will also require working through your holidays and vacations. If you always go away in the spring or fall, take an extended summer vacation in the mountains or rent a beach home, the allocation of that time will need to be detailed in the plan.

Relocation?

During the term of the custody agreement, which generally lasts until the child turns age 18, life moves on and some parents may be faced with the opportunity or need to relocate for work or other reasons. Your parenting plan will need to provide instructions on how notice of such a move would be made, and how it will affect the parent-time schedule, what distance of a move will trigger these requirements and account for the cost of the child's transportation.

Changes and disputes

If your child or children are young, the parenting plan could be in force for a decade or longer. Your life arrangements and your child's needs will likely change. This means you should build into your plan a workable means of reaching an agreement with your child's other parent to make these changes.

It will also contain a dispute resolution mechanism that will allow a quick means of disposing of any dispute that arises. While you can resort to the court for this resolution, such a resolution would be the most expensive option and may include your paying your child's other parent's attorney fees. The better option will be to plan to resolve them through negotiation and cooperation.

This is a very important document, so be certain you spend the time necessary to assemble a thoughtful and good faith proposal that truly takes into account the best interests of your child. They will thank you in more ways than you will ever know.