Part of being an attorney means everyone – from your neighbor to Uncle Jim to the cable guy – has a question or scenario they want to run by you for your advice. And most of the time, I can totally understand where they are coming from. Attorneys, by their very nature, are expensive and if it’s possible to get a bit of free legal advice, people are more than willing to take that chance. Some of the questions are great. Others well… that’s a story for a different time.
But, all in all, I feel like for attorneys, giving advice and hopefully educating a person on something they might not know enough about is a vital part of the job. So I plan to use this blog weekly (or as often as possible) to impart a little bit of knowledge on stuff that I think people need to know. So if you feel like you have a question you’d like a little bit of enlightenment on, feel free to drop it in the comments. With that being said… that’s enough editorializing for me. Let’s get to it.
I’d like to start this series off on right foot by addressing the issue of Parenting Plans. Generally, when two people have a child or children (whether they were married or not), if they go to Court regarding the rights of the parents with respect to said children, the Court will make them set up a Parenting Plan. The Parent Plan basically sets forth each of the parents’ responsibilities to the minor child.
So, for example, the Parenting Plan will dictate who gets the children on what days, where the children go on certain holidays, what happens if one parent wants to move, what school the children go to, and pretty much every other possible scenario that could arise. They certainly aren’t perfect, but they are a great guide for parents when there are questions about what happens with the children in certain scenarios. Additionally, they are just that… a guide, so if the parents agree they want to do something different than what the plan says, they are well within their rights to do so.
Now I know what you are saying… “I thought this was supposed to be a column about advice. You’re already telling me stuff I already know.” Well don’t fret because here comes the reveal. Unless there are extraordinary circumstances, if you have children and are no longer together with the other parent, GET YOURSELF A PARENTING PLAN. And here’s why.
Let’s just say, for example, in some future world that you and Brad Pitt (since you know he’s single now) have two wonderful children, Angelina and Jennifer (yeah… I know). However, despite the good life you guys are living together, another women catches his eye while filming Mr. & Mrs. Smith 2 (okay… I’ll stop). At first, you guys are amicable enough to be reasonable regarding when each of you will see the children and any other issues that arise.
However, that amicability doesn’t last. When Mr. & Mrs. Smith 2 comes out, you get enraged seeing Brad and his new leading lady all over TMZ and E-News. It gets so bad that one night, you have one too many glasses of red wine, and you call him to tell him that you never even saw Interview with a Vampire and that you thought Se7en wasn’t even that good. It turns into full on World War Z. Brad, not being able to handle such rejection, then in turn tells you that he won’t be sending the kids back to you after this weekend and is planning on spending Seven Years in Tibet.
So you call the police and make a complaint that your former boyfriend is refusing to return your children. And do you know what the police do? They ask to look at a copy of your Parenting Plan. But wait, because you and Brad were amicable up until this point, you don’t have one. And you have nothing in writing. So what can the police do for you? Unless the children are in some sort of danger (such as Brad putting them in a Fight Club), there really isn’t much they can do for you. And Brad (for all his faults) is a great dad. So unfortunately, the best the police can do for you will be to advise you to file something in court.
This, my friends, is why a Parenting Plan is so important. It regulates those circumstances where there is a dispute between the two parents and gives guidance to the police should the situation ever arise. And don’t even start with the “Oh the child’s parent and myself have a great relationship so this type of stuff will never happen” garbage. If that’s the case, and you guys work well together, DO IT NOW!
Relationships change all of the time. The best of friends can end up the worst of enemies. Even Abbott and Costello hated each other in the end. You will save yourself so much stress and angst by setting up a Parenting Plan while the parties are on the same page and are able to work together. If you wait until the relationship has deteriorated to the point of Court action being necessary, then you can expect the process to be much more drawn out and costly for both parties. The forms are all available online and there are plenty of great attorneys around the area who would certainly be able to help you with any questions you might have.
So, in closing, please allow me to impart this wisdom to you. If you have a child with another person and you two are no longer together, no matter the relationship between the two of you, get yourself a Parenting Plan. Because let’s be honest, even Brad Pitt could stoop low enough to Snatch your kid from you.
Dana K. Smith, Esq. is an Associate Attorney at Patch, FitzGerald & Ward, P.A. located on 28 Webster Street in Manchester. His practice focuses primarily in the areas of family law, landlord tenant law, personal injury, workers’ compensation and social security disability claims. Attorney Smith graduated with a Dual BA in English Journalism and Justice Studies from the University of New Hampshire in Durham and received his Juris Doctorate from the UNH School of Law. He can be reached by phone at (603)647-2600 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.