Parenting Plans in Montana – more than just a Residential ScheduleMarybeth Sampsel
When a divorcing couple first thinks of a parenting plan or visitation schedule, they often think only about where their children will spend their time, what days of the week will be dad’s or mom’s, and which parent will have more time with the children. While the Residential Schedule is certainly a huge part of a Parenting Plan (and often the most contentious ), Parenting Plans are designed to deal with a number of other issues that arise between divorced parents.
The Montana law regarding final parenting plans allows parents to divvy up or share parenting functions. Parenting functions are defined in the statue as “those aspects of the parent-child relationship in which the parent makes decisions and performs functions necessary for the care and growth of the child.” Parenting functions can include anything from providing daily care for a child to major decision making. Some of the functions that should be addressed in a parenting plan are set forth in the relevant part of the Montana Code Annotated:
M.C.A. 40-4-234 (2) Based on the best interest of the child, a final parenting plan may include, at a minimum, provisions for:
(a) designation of a parent as custodian of the child, solely for the purposes of all other state and federal statutes that require a designation or determination of custody, but the designation may not affect either parent’s rights and responsibilities under the parenting plan;
(b) designation of the legal residence of both parents and the child, except as provided in 40-4-217;
(c) a residential schedule specifying the periods of time during which the child will reside with each parent, including provisions for holidays, birthdays of family members, vacations, and other special occasions;
(d) finances to provide for the child’s needs;
(e) any other factors affecting the physical and emotional health and well-being of the child;
(f) periodic review of the parenting plan when requested by either parent or the child or when circumstances arise that are foreseen by the parents as triggering a need for review, such as attainment by the child of a certain age or if a change in the child’s residence is necessitated;
(g) sanctions that will apply if a parent fails to follow the terms of the parenting plan, including contempt of court;
(h) allocation of parental decision making authority regarding the child’s:
(ii) spiritual development; and
(iii) health care and physical growth;
(i) the method by which future disputes concerning the child will be resolved between the parents, other than court action; and
(j) the unique circumstances of the child or the family situation that the parents agree will facilitate a meaningful, ongoing relationship between the child and parents.
While this section of the statute sets forth the minimum requirements of a parenting plan, some parties end up negotiating and agreeing upon provisions that are even more specific. For example, I had a client that included a provision regarding when their child could receive a haircut. I have also had numerous parents include a provision about where their children will attend school long-term. Religious upbrining is also a popular issue to spell out specifically in the parenting plan.
Clearly, parenting plans are not just for residential schedules. The goal is to come up with a plan that will work for the family and, as always, addresses the best interest of the minor children.