Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)
314.727.4880

Couples Often Avoid The Hard Work Of Drafting A Parenting Plan When Getting A Divorce

Are you and your ex-husband or wife still arguing over the care of your children? If so, it’s a common experience for many of the clients I see who come to me months or years after their divorce is final to seek a court resolution to on-going differences with their former spouse about the care of their children.

 

Many times, these problems could have been avoided if both parents had spent more time during the divorce working on and agreeing to a “parenting plan” tailored to their individual situation, rather than simply adopting the “sample plan” provided by the court. In fact, one of the main benefits of a well thought out plan is that it brings to an end, via the power of a court order, the constant rehashing of child rearing issues that a couple has been unable to resolve on their own.

 

It is for these reasons and others that I believe that the parenting plan is the most important outcome of a divorce, but is one that the parties often put the least amount of effort into. In St. Louis County, every divorce involving minor children must include a written plan that addresses the most significant issues involved in the joint parenting of those children.

 

These “big deal” issues include defining who has physical custody and when; how on-going medical care is to be handled; meeting the child’s educational needs; and even down to which parent gets to claim the child as an exemption on the tax return. The plan can be pretty detailed, spelling out the exact times when the child is to be transferred between the parents.

 

To assist divorcing couples, the court provides a sample document, called the Siegenthaler Plan, to guide them in constructing their own plan. The Siegenthaler Plan is named after a divorcing couple and was their actual plan for the shared raising of their children. It contains all the elements of a well-conceived plan and that’s why the court provides it as a model.

 

Too often, though, couples in a divorce will adopt this plan with nary a single change. In many of the cases I have handled, despite my efforts to construct a plan fine-tuned to the unique situation and needs of the children and parents at hand, the opposing counsel counters with a plan that simply substitutes their client’s name for the Siegenthaler’s!

 

Drafting and negotiating a plan that meets the needs of the children, while giving appropriate deference to the differing views of a father and mother, can be very hard work for both parents and attorneys. Taken seriously, as it should, preparing the plan can also be painful as the couple is forced to find “middle ground” on issues that have divided them much of the marriage. Perhaps that’s why the litigants and their lawyers are so quick to grab the sample plan as their own…it’s an easy compromise without either party’s fingerprints so neither feels like a “loser” in the outcome.

 

Unfortunately, within months, everyone…particularly the children…come up short because neither parent feels bound by a plan that they never really committed to. And, that’s why motions to enforce or change parenting plans appear so often on the family court docket. From my perspective, the extra time and money it takes to get it right from the get-go are resources well spent.

 

Next week, I will write more specifically about what should be in a well-constructed parenting plan.