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Parenting Plans in Practice

Recently, in the family law community a discussion was had regarding how strictly parenting plans are followed by our clients. While the question was batted around for a while with anecdotal stories of perfect compliance and/or utter disregard of the plans, the answer was less than conclusive. That is: it depends. The level of compliance with a parenting plan seems to vary as much as the families they are drafted for.

While the question couldn’t be answered conclusively, some generalizations could be drawn from the anecdotes. From this (entirely unscientific) exercise, it became clear that what we have seen from parents is similar to what other family law practitioners are seeing. Some families follow their parenting plan to a T, while others toss it in a drawer and all but forget it ever existed. One commonality that seems to exist is that if parents got along well regarding parenting during the marriage they are more likely to be flexible and understanding with each other regarding the parenting after the divorce. Another similar observation is that parties who experienced long, contentious litigation were often less likely to be flexible regarding aspects of their parenting plans. Another shared experience, is having clients who begin as a flexible agreeable partnership, and then change to a less-agreeable, more rigid pair of individuals.

Whether you anticipate strict compliance or a laissez-faire attitude toward your plan, it is important that it be drafted in a way that you would be satisfied if strict compliance was required. Even in dissolutions where both parties anticipate flexibility and friendliness, a well drafted and reasonably specific plan is an absolute necessity (this plan can even explicitly permit flexibility). Sometimes, having a specific framework helps people maintain order and efficiency. It’s not that they won’t stray from the plan occasionally, just that when they do, they’ll have a framework to return to. Also, sometimes relationships sour (those who have been divorced know this all too well). Even if things seem copacetic during drafting, plan for the worst. Have a plan in place that you and your kids will be happy sticking too if your flexible relationship fails to remain so.