What are you communicating with your proposed parenting plan?

Posted Thursday, January 31st, 2019 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Child Custody, Litigation Strategy, Of Interest to Family Court Litigants, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys, South Carolina Specific

In 2012, South Carolina revised its child custody statutes and added a provision requiring proposed parenting plans at temporary hearings. This parenting plan asks each party to propose a bi-weekly, holiday, electronic, and summer visitation schedule, address legal custody, describe requested restraints, and note any other custody concerns the family court should be aware of.

At that time I wrote, “the parenting plan provision will require extra work, which means extra fees for South Carolina family law attorneys. We are the clear–if minor and unintended–beneficiaries of this new law.” Six and a half years later, I’ve changed my mind. Experience suggests that these parenting plans can communicate something useful to the family court judge.

Too often parenting plans communicate indifference to the process. It’s easy for a primary wage earner to submit a parenting plan that proposes week-on/week-off custody in the hope of obtaining liberal visitation. However, without some justification for upending the status quo that radically, the family court is unlikely to give this parenting plan much consideration. Better for a primary wage earning to propose a parenting plan of extremely liberal visitation that works around his or her work schedule in the hope that the family court actually adopts it. Similarly, the primary caretaker whose parenting plan recommends visitation every other Friday to Sunday and two weeks at summer, but who has no serious issues with the other parent’s parenting (other than that the other parenting hasn’t been primary), isn’t providing the family court a parenting plan the court is likely to adopt but is communicating that parent’s hostility toward the other parent.

Even worse are litigants who propose unworkable parenting plans. Fixed parenting plans create misery for parents who travel frequently and irregularly for work. For such parents, a suggestion that the court forgo the bi-weekly pattern for a more flexible schedule is likely to achieve a visitation schedule that parent can actually utilize. Litigants who work a 24-hour on/48-hour off schedule should substitute a bi-weekly schedule for a schedule that alternates every three weeks (since the work schedule rotates every three weeks). Then their parenting schedule will not conflict with their work schedule.

Finally, in close custody cases, proposed parenting plans communicate each parent’s attitude towards the other. In cases where both parties have had substantial caretaking responsibility, a parenting plan that is close to 50/50 in time recognizes the other parent’s role in the child’s life. In contrast, a parenting plan that suggests the other parent have minimal time with the child better be accompanied by evidence that the child is having serious issues with the other parent. Absent such evidence, this parenting plan communicates to the family court that this parent undervalues the other parent’s relationship with the child–which can be a deciding, and negative, factor in close custody cases.

A poorly conceived parenting plan can communicate a party’s lack of interest in the process or a disregard for the other party’s relationship with the child. A well crafted parenting plan, especially in conjunction with affidavits that justify that plan, can communicate that parent’s serious consideration of what is in the child’s best interests. I’ve seen family courts adopt one party’s proposed parenting plan verbatim if sufficient thought has been put into that plan and that party’s temporary hearing affidavits justify the proposed plan. That should be every litigant’s goal in drafting parenting plans.

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