Joint Legal or Physical Custody Requires a Parenting Plan
Utah divorce law tends to favor the joint physical and legal custody of children. Just this year the Utah legislature changed the law to make the minimum parent time schedule for non-custodial parents 145 overnights, that is, a joint custody arrangement. Most parents understand that a joint custody arrangement is generally best for children.
Joint custody, however, raises some difficult issues because the parents obviously have had trouble working together in the past. Thus, the legislature has required that parents sharing custody of children put together a written parenting plan that governs the terms of the custody arrangement and which the court can look to in resolving problems between the parties.
What does the Parenting Plan Contain?
The parenting plan is a contract of sorts. It must contain at a minimum the following:
- Provisions for the physical care of the children;
- Provisions to ensure the emotional stability of the children;
- Provisions to accommodate for the children’s needs as they grow older so as to avoid having to modify the plan as the children age;
- Provisions describing the authority of each parent in relation to the child;
- Provisions that govern the parents’ behavior so as to protect the children from being exposed to marital conflict;
- Provisions governing the parents’ behavior so that they will avoid having to involve the court in their future disputes;
- Any other provision that will promote the best interest of the child;
- A dispute resolution process, which usually includes a mediation requirement;
- Provisions allocating authority between the parents for deciding issues regarding the children’s healthcare, education, and religious upbringing.
The parenting plan must be filed with the court before an order of joint custody can be signed. Once it is signed and filed it is a governing document and is incorporated into the divorce decree. Violations of the parenting plan can be adjudicated as contempt of court.