Divorce is the most difficult on children, and the sooner parents can establish a parenting plan, the better. The parenting plan creates a framework that offers stability for the child(ren) and minimizes conflict between parents and other family members. Whether the divorce is amicable or contentious, it is in the best interests of everyone to negotiate a parenting plan that ensures that education, healthcare, familial relationships, and other aspects are appropriately addressed and agreed to by both parents.
If the parenting plan is not comprehensive, anything left on the table could become the seed that germinates into a future conflict. Since any parenting plan’s primary purpose is to serve as a container to alleviate conflict, it should be as thorough as possible.
Nail Down Your Primary Concerns
Both parents will have critical concerns about the child’s upbringing. The more contentious the issue, the more critical it is to factor a solution into the parenting plan proactively. Discussing these issues with your attorney before presenting a parenting plan to the other parent and their legal counsel can avoid conflict.
Common concerns with parenting plans in Arizona that you should address beforehand include the following:
- Education. Will the child stay in the same school? Will the child attend a parochial school? If it’s a private school, who will be responsible for tuition?
- Safety. Are drug abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, etc., present that could endanger the child’s health and safety?
- Supervision. Does either parent have a fluid work schedule that could result in unexpected periods without parental supervision? Can the child contact the other parent via phone, email, messaging, video chat, etc., during non-custodial periods?
- Healthcare. Who will be responsible for both standard and emergency healthcare decisions? Who will pay for healthcare coverage?
- Holidays/Vacations. How will holidays and vacation time be divided between parents? Will both parents allow the child to travel out of state? Will the child be allowed to travel outside of the country? Can the child spend these periods with family/friends?
- Expenses. Who will pay for non-medical, non-education child-related expenses related to clothing, food, travel, etc.?
- Scheduling. How will life events (i.e., business trips, illnesses, sudden deaths, etc.) be handled when making adjustments to parenting time? How much advance notice do parents need to provide one another for scheduling changes?
And, the most important:
Alterations and Adjustments. No parenting plan remains the same from the day the plan is agreed to until the child becomes an adult. Thus, creating a framework for communication and a process for adjustments that will grow and evolve with the child’s needs is imperative. It will also serve as a basis for resolving disputes before they fester into open conflict.
It is important to note that the court may have already ruled on any number of these issues. When this is the case, it is essential to include the decision within the parenting plan.
The Devil Is in the Details
Parenting plans should be as detailed as possible. In addition to the most common points of contention, there are many other critical details to address within the parenting plan. These issues may not seem important in the grand scheme of things, but they can sow the seeds of significant conflict.
Details in every parenting plan should include:
- Romantic relationships. Will either parent be allowed to have romantic guests over when the child is in the home?
- Sleepovers. Will the child be allowed to have sleepovers at either parent’s home?
- Social media. Will the child be allowed to use social media at either home?
- Driving privileges. Will the child be allowed to drive either parent’s vehicles? Will they be allowed to drive their own vehicle to parenting time? Will either parent’s new partner/spouse be allowed to drive the child to school, medical appointments, parenting time, etc.?
- Activities. What activities are permissible, and what is prohibited? Can the child waterski, ski, swim, dive, hike, camp, use recreational vehicles, etc.?
- Employment. Will the child be allowed to work during either parent’s parenting time? How will adjustments to parenting time be addressed if the child’s work schedule changes?
- Family visits. Will the child be allowed to visit or have contact with other family members such as grandparents during parenting time?
- Discipline. How will discipline be administered? What disciplinary actions will parents agree to administer?
- Religious education. Is either parent, or is the child, involved in a specific faith tradition? Are there strong feelings about how and whether it should continue, or how it will be addressed if either the child or one of the parents becomes affiliated with another religion?
Parents want the best for their children, but not every parent can agree on what that means. Some parents will agree on important issues such as religion, education, and healthcare. Other parents may come into conflict with typically less contentious issues and vice versa. Establishing your goals with your attorney can help the attorney craft a plan that helps you achieve your goals either immediately or in time.
Some parents may seek an amicable co-parenting arrangement with joint legal decision-making. Others may view the parenting plan as an opportunity to establish the reasons they deserve sole legal decision-making authority. If this is the goal, then it’s essential to establish a legal justification for such requests. Arizona courts want both parents to be involved as much as possible.
However, there are exceptions, and the court will consider factors that could be detrimental to the child’s welfare. These include:
- Drug Abuse
- Physical/Emotional/Sexual abuse
- Domestic Violence
- Criminal History
- Mental Illness or Mental Incapacity
When sole legal decision-making authority is requested within the parenting plan, it is not enough to allege these factors are present; these allegations must be supported by evidence. Thus, it is crucial to gather and present criminal records, counseling records, medical records, etc., that establish why the parent is seeking sole legal decision-making authority.
To Agree…or Let the Court Decide
It is usually best for the divorcing couple, or for the never-married parents, to arrive at a parenting arrangement together without the court’s intervention. This is the most practical and expedient avenue, and it requires give and take from both parents during the negotiations.
When both sides can’t agree, the court will step in to resolve any points of contention. When this happens, it can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year for an Arizona court to arrive at a final decision regarding sole legal decision making, joint legal decision making, parenting time, etc.
Parenting Plans Are Contracts
Parenting plans are long-term contracts between both parents. The courts will hold both parents accountable for adhering to the plan. However, the courts also understand that life happens. Parents will take new jobs, get remarried, move to new cities, experience changing economic situations, etc. Further, children’s needs will evolve as health conditions emerge, educational needs change, etc.
As such, parenting plans can be modified. The courts allow modifications as long as one year has passed since the last modification. However, the courts will consider earlier requests for modification if the parent submits an affidavit that establishes a clear and immediate risk to the child’s welfare. For example, drug abuse, physical assault, abandonment, or other factors that could be detrimental to the child’s moral, mental, or emotional welfare.
Parents can request modifications to the parenting plan if either parent fails to comply with the existing parenting plan. As with other requests to modify the parenting plan, such requests must be established with evidence, including dates and specific actions contrary to the agreed-upon parenting plan. This is why the plan must be as thorough as possible because if the alleged violation isn’t specifically covered within the parenting plan, the court will not consider it a violation of the agreement.
Modifications for Military Parents in Arizona
There are nearly twenty thousand active-duty military personnel in Arizona, with a nearly equal number in the reserves or National Guard. When a parent serves in any of these capacities, the court will consider the military family care plan’s terms when determining the child’s best interest.
The court will protect the rights of the military parent. It will not penalize them when they are called up for temporary duty, active deployment, or activation that requires them to relocate a substantial distance from their primary residence. In these situations, and unless the deploying parent agrees, the court will not modify an existing order until 90 days after the deployment.
Arizona Statutes Reign Supreme
Parents in Arizona must acknowledge and include statements that they will adhere to and abide by Arizona statutes. Of particular note, the following are non-negotiable:
- Arizona 25.403(B) – This statute requires parents to notify the other if a convicted sex offender or individual convicted of any crime against a child has access to the child.
- ARS 25-403.06 – Both parents must provide access to the child’s medical, educational, legal, and other records unless otherwise prohibited by the court.
Getting Help Drawing Up Your Parenting Plan
Parents who divorce or separate amicably often try to handle writing up a parenting plan without the assistance of individual lawyers or the court. However, if points of conflict arise, it’s wise to get legal counsel sooner rather than later. A lawyer can help ensure that there are not gaps in the parenting plan, that agreements are legally binding, and that they comply with state regulations. If you need representation while creating your parenting plan, contact Simon Law. As experienced Arizona family lawyers, we understand the many small considerations that need to take place, and we fight just as hard as you do for your child’s welfare and well-being. Contact us today for a free consultation.
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