In 2018 Maryland courts will require that parents submit parenting plans in all child custody cases soon after filing to facilitate child-centered planning. A parenting plan is an agreement between parents and endorsed by the Court that states when the children will be with each parent (parenting time) and how major decisions about medical, educational, religious will be made (legal custody).

Raising children in the same household already presents challenges. When parents live in separate homes, and perhaps limit their communications to texting rather than conversation, the challenges are greater. Sometimes parents disagree about how much time children should spend with each parent, holidays and vacations, or extracurricular activities that inevitably scheduled during the other parents’ time. This constant stress can adversely impact children. Studies show that children who experience ongoing conflict between parents are at increased risk for suffering serious long‐term emotional problems.

Children do best when their parents cooperate with each other. Detailed parenting schedules clarifying pick-ups and drop-offs, and allocating family holidays and vacations, can avoid friction between divorced parents which is harmful to children. Parenting plans that reflect agreements about how parents will consult each other and decide future health, educational, religious or other important issues (for example, intensive athletic, dance or musical activities) also provide children and parents with the structure for joint decisionmaking so parents can make decisions as they arise without undue conflict or delay.

Parenting plans are not a new idea, but unless specifically requested by the parties not all judges routinely incorporate detailed parenting schedules in custody Orders. In the absence of a jointly proposed parenting plan, some judges issue ‘standard’ parenting schedules that may not reflect the needs or preferences of the children or parents. Since courts generally defer to negotiated parenting agreements, I encourage clients to collaborate in developing parenting plans.