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An overview of parenting plans for New Jersey families

Although divorce can be emotionally difficult for all parties involved, a plan for parents to address the needs of a child can minimize stresses while ensuring that both parents are able to continue to be involved in the life of a young person. In fact, most custody issues can be resolved prior to a case reaching the court. Legal assistance can be important as negotiation and other alternative dispute resolution options are pursued.

A parenting agreement is used to resolve child custody issues such as visitation and decision making. Negotiation or mediation may be used to reach an agreement outside of the courtroom. The plan needs to address important points, including schedules for visitation, the physical residence of a child, the responsibility for legal decisions and other issues that could come into question over time.

Although parenting agreements are often reached outside of court, there is a need for final judicial approval. At times, the official presiding over a case may ask questions to ensure that both parties understand the terms and implications. Additionally, a judge will be concerned that a child's best interests have been met in an agreement. Upon judicial approval, a plan becomes legally binding, making it important for parents to recognize their responsibilities prior to reaching this stage.

A parent may find that major life changes affect their ability to continue with certain aspects of a parenting plan. Because the court-approved plan is legally binding, it may be necessary to have modifications approved in court as well. A family lawyer may work to represent the parent seeking changes, and it may be possible for court time to be minimized if both parents are able to agree to the needed changes.

Source: FindLaw, "The Parenting Agreement", accessed on feb. 23, 2015

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