Any court order addressing custody should include some sort of parenting plan. This is especially important in states like New Mexico where joint custody is preferred because a parenting plan provides an outline of how parents will make decisions about and share time with their child.
A detailed and comprehensive parenting plan can also help alleviate conflict between parents and relieve the stress on a child by providing predictability. While most people remember to include the basics of raising the child in their parenting plan, like days and times for exchanges and payment of child support, there are some issues that tend to be forgotten, but that are also important.
Parents may wish to include rules about visitors in their parenting plan. The parenting plan may simply state that the custodial parent should use proper judgment before bringing visitors into the home while the child is there.
This situation puts trust in the custodial parent, without requiring them to jump through hoops to have visitors. The parenting plan may also include provisions about overnight guests and address issues concerning a parent's significant other. It is important to remember that the parenting plan should be focuses on what is in the best interest of the child and should not be used as a method to antagonize the other parent.
Many children are involved in extracurricular activities, which can be a great source of enrichment for the child. But they can also pose a number of questions to be answered by a parenting plan. First, some parents may not wish their child participate in certain activities; the parenting plan should name what activities are currently agreed upon and provide instructions for how parents will deal with choosing future activities. Second, the parenting plan can address how the costs of these activities are divided between parents. While some activities are fairly inexpensive, others such as playing a musical instrument or competitive sports can be very costly. Finally, depending on the relationship between parents, attendance at sporting events, concerts and other public events may need to be addressed. If the parents are unable to attend the events at the same time in a civil manner, they may need to split the events so that each can attend.
Cell Phones and Internet
One newer issue becoming more and more important is that of cell phones and internet usage. A parenting plan can address the age at which a child may have a cell phone, in what manner they may use it (for example, only in emergencies or only to call family), and how will the monthly cell phone bill will be paid. Similarly, a parenting plan can address a child's internet usage. Many parents are concerned about their child's usage of social media websites, and the parenting plan can discuss at what age the child is able to use such sites and what manner of monitoring the parents will do.
The parenting plan should address what religion, if any, the child will practice and what that practice entails. Some religious practices are very involved and can include attending services or classes multiple times per week, which can infringe on a parent's timesharing with the child. Further, when parents follow different religious practices, it can be confusing for a child and parenting plan should address how to ease that tension.
As any parent knows, there are a myriad of decisions to make in order to raise a child. Even the most thorough parenting plan cannot answer all of those questions. However, taking the time to really think about potential parenting issues and what is in a child's best interest can make a parenting plan an extremely effective tool for co-parenting. Working with an experienced family law attorney can help ensure that the parenting plan addresses as many potential issues as possible while still complying with the law.