There is no easy way for parents to share custody of their children. Yet the law in New Mexico, as well as many other states, requires parents to do just that based on the presumption that some form of joint, or shared, custody is in a child‘s best interest. Therefore, the result of most child custody disputes is the entry of a parenting plan, which is a written document that provides detailed instructions as to how parents will share time with, and make decisions for, their children.
A thorough parenting plan allows parents to side-step many of the pitfalls inherent in shared child custody situations., because it provides both parents and children with a predictable schedule and consistent solutions to problems that may arise. In general, a parenting plan should address legal child custody (which is the decision making process for the children in the areas of residence, education, religion, medical care and extracurricular activities) and should address timesharing by providing a detailed schedule of when and where the children will spend time with each parent.
However, every family and every child is different, so every parenting plan should be tailored to a family‘s unique circumstances. Some children will be more comfortable switching between parent‘s homes often, while others may need to spend longer periods of time with each parent and have fewer transitions between homes. In addition, the parenting plan should evolve over time, as a child‘s needs will change as they grow older. Here is a brief list of some of the major issues to be addressed in every parenting plan:
Child Custody and Visitation
In the past, child custody agreements generally have the children living primarily with the mother and then spending time with the father. However, the modern trend is away from such rigid application of timesharing schedules and there are many other child custody options available to families. Children may alternate time with each parent every four to five days, or alternate weekly. Where parents live far from one another, the child may spend the school year living with one parent, and spend some weekends, holidays and summer vacation with the other parent. There are many different combinations that will work; the most important consideration is what works best for the child.
In addition, the parenting plan should address childcare situations, if that is required. Both parents should agree on the method of childcare used, whether it is a babysitter, daycare or nanny. The plan should also provide for how the childcare costs will be split.
Particularly where parents do not live close to one another, transportation is an issue that must be resolved. The parenting plan should address the method of transportation between the parents‘ houses. Even if a car is used, you must determine whether the custodial parent will drop off the child, or if the non-custodial parent will be picking up the child. If the distance is too far to drive, then parents need to agree on train or airplane transportation. If the child is too young to travel alone, arrangements for who will accompany the child will also need to be included in the parenting plan.
While it may seem obvious, parenting plans should also include information regarding the child‘s basic care. Parents can agree on ground rules for food, sleep and activities. Some parents may wish to have certain dietary restrictions, including organic diets or limitations on sugar. In addition, the parenting plan may include information about bedtimes for the child, so that the child is receiving consistent sleep periods regardless of which parent they are with.
These are just some of the issues that should be addressed by a good parenting plan. It may seem tedious to consider all of the details at the outset of a child custody determination, but addressing these details will almost always save the parties time and heartache by avoiding future conflicts over child custody. Securing representation by an experienced family law attorney to help parties negotiate and formalize their child custody agreements into a workable parenting plan is almost always money well spent.
Long Distance Child Custody and Time-Sharing Arrangements in New Mexico
Custodial Interference in New Mexico Divorce & Family Law Cases
The Basics of New Mexico Child Custody Jurisdiction