What Is a Custody Plan?
A “custody plan,” or “custody agreement,” is a parenting plan endorsed by both parents. It includes a custody or visitation schedule (including a holiday schedule, if applicable) and often also includes a plan for dealing with any conflicts that could arise. Provisions often address various subject-matters that relate to the children such as education, medical care, transportation, extracurricular activities and any number of other child-related issues. Provisions also commonly relate to how the parents, or even family-members or other third parties, should interact with each other. An example would be a common prohibition against speaking negatively about the other parent.
Laws regarding custody agreements vary from state to state. Further, not every agreement or provision is necessarily enforceable. Seeking legal counsel is always the best advice.
The Difference Between Consent and Court Ordered Custody Plans
When the parties go to court on child custody, the Court will rule as to the award of custody. While sole custody does occur, it is rare and usually involves exceptional circumstances. The most common occurrence is for the Court to award joint custody. In Louisiana, joint custody is presumed to be in the best interests of the children. When the Court awards joint custody, it will usually issue or direct the preparation of a custody plan called a “joint custody implementation plan.” The purpose of the plan is to set forth the custody schedule and the various obligations and responsibilities of the parties. Because a custody plan issued by the Court is essentially a court order, violating it can have significant repercussions. By way of example, violating a court order subjects a party to being held in contempt of court.
A written custody plan is always the best circumstances so the parties know where they stand. The good news is that you don’t have to go to court to get one. Nothing precludes the parties from reaching agreement on a custody plan without having to try a case in front of a judge.
While a “private” custody plan is not a court order, it is essentially a type of contract and can nevertheless be enforceable. If a party violates it, depending on the terms in the plan, it may carry penalties or liabilities.
What Does a Custody Agreement Do?
The purpose of the custody plan or agreement is to resolve the dispute and simply set forth, in writing, the terms of custody. It demonstrates what the parties have agreed to do, or not do, as the case may be. Ideally, it spells out in detail how the custody will be handled. It can be very broadly written, particularly where the parties get along very well. Such provisions are ideally flexible, but regrettably, can lead to conflict in the future when the parties may no longer be on good terms and the provisions aren’t as clear.
It can be very detailed and technical. This is common in high-conflict cases where the parties simply don’t get along. The custody plan covers as may situations and circumstances as can be reasonably foreseen with instructions on how each are addressed.
Of course, not all situations can be anticipated and such highly detailed plans can be very rigid and inconvenient.
Custody plans aren’t a magic wand. They won’t solve all your problems, but if properly drafted and considered, a custody plan can resolve disputes and either avoid, or put an end to, litigation.
Who Determines the Terms of the Agreement?
In the case of an agreement reached outside of court, ultimately, the parties determine the terms. Of course, it is highly recommended that you seek the advice of an attorney on these issues. Experienced family law attorneys are familiar with common issues that the average person, who has never gone through this before, likely isn’t. Your attorney can help make sure the document is properly drafted.
In the case of a court-ordered custody plan, the provisions are generally dictated by the Court, or prepared by the attorneys at the Court’s direction. Provisions may vary from case to case depending on any unique circumstances that might apply.
Contact us today if you have questions about your legal rights as the parent of a minor child. We can help get your life back on track and will fight for your rights to your children.
Reardon is an Attorney & Counselor at Law and Board Certified Family Law Specialist His primary areas of practice are Divorce & Family Law and General Civil Litigation and is located in Lafayette, LA