Is a Parenting Plan Really Necessary?Many parents want to know whether a parenting plan is absolutely necessary in a New Mexico dissolution proceeding. Generally speaking, the answer is “yes.” A parenting plan is required by state law every time joint custody is awarded. Additionally, it is in the best interest of children for parental expectations to be clear.

As discussed in an earlier blog here, New Mexico presumes that joint custody is in the best interest of children. When joint custody is awarded, the law provides that “the court shall approve a parenting plan for the implementation of the prospective custody arrangement prior to the award of joint custody.” In these situations, a parenting plan is mandatory under state law.

What is a parenting plan? It is a document, ideally prepared jointly by the parents, that sets forth their caretaking responsibilities in writing. If the parents cannot agree on a plan, the court will take action to have a third party intervene to help them make a plan or to propose a plan for the court’s review.

The law provides that the parenting plan must divide the “child’s time and care into periods of responsibility for each parent.” In other words, the parenting plan must set forth when each parent will serve as the primary caretaker for the child. In addition, the parenting plan may address the following issues:

  • Major issues, such as “religion, education, child care, recreational activities[,] and medical and dental care”;
  • Decision-making responsibilities about various aspects of the child’s life;
  • Methods the parents will use for communication, transport, and exchange of the child; and
  • Measures to make decisions in the future, including how the parents will address differences of opinion.

Parents may affirmatively address other issues in their plan, such as expectations regarding the use of drugs or alcohol around their children and decision-making on controversial issues, such as tattoos.

Mandatory parenting plans support New Mexico’s important goal of serving the “best interest of the child.” They become effective when approved by a judge.

An experienced New Mexico family lawyer can help you understand the laws that apply to your marriage and obtain the result that is best for you and your children. If you have questions about parenting plans, contact the Lightning Legal Group. We understand the typically acrimonious nature of proceedings, and we’ll help you find your way. Contact us today at (505) 247-2390 for experienced legal advice.

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