In child custody matters, it is often best if parents who are separated or in the process of separating are able to work together amicably to discuss and decide on a plan as to the parenting of their children. As a parent, you have known your children their entire lives, but a judge will only get a snapshot of your relationship with them at a trial and have to make a decision on that basis. While there have previously been tools in place through the court system to assist parents, including court-ordered mediation and co-parenting classes, Maryland recently enacted new requirements for parents involved in custody litigation.
As of January 1, 2020, if you are a party in contested custody litigation, you and your child’s other parent will be required to complete a Parenting Plan. Maryland Rule 9-204.1. The Parenting Plan is a comprehensive document that addresses issues related to the custody and care of your children, including whom shall have decision-making authority, how communication about your children will be facilitated, and the actual physical access schedules. At your initial scheduling conference with the court, you will be provided with instructions for completing the Plan. You may work on this document directly with your child’s other parent, with the aid of a mediator, or with your attorney. When you are discussing and working on completing the Parenting Plan, you should think about durability and keep the best interest of your children in mind.
While the goal of the new Parenting Plan rule is to help you and your co-parent complete and agree on matters related to the care and custody of your children, that won’t always be possible. If you are not able to agree on the Parenting Plan, then you will need to complete a different form, the Joint Statement of the Parties Concerning Decision-Making Authority and Parenting Time. Maryland Rule 9-204.2. The purpose of the Joint Statement is to indicate to the court the specific places where you and your co-parent agree or disagree about the decision-making, communication, and access issues that are to be addressed in the Parenting Plan and to serve as a guide for the Court.
The date by which the Joint Statement must be filed will be set by the court, but at least thirty (30) days before the Joint Statement is due to be filed, each party must send their completed statement to the other party. At least fifteen (15) days before the Joint Statement is due to be filed, the plaintiff (the party who initiated the custody action by filing), will sign a Joint Statement that they believe accurately reflects each parties’ positions, and send to the defendant for their review. The defendant must then sign and file the Joint Statement if they are in agreement, or file it with a written statement identifying their points of disagreement.
If you have questions about completing the Parenting Plan, the Joint Statement of Parties Concerning Decision-Making Authority and Parenting Time, or about your custody rights, an attorney will be able to address your questions, help you understand the nuances of the various forms, and guide you through the process of litigation and/or settlement. Contact Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, LLC today.