Topics on this page:
- What is a parenting plan?
- Getting started
- The parties agree, now what?
- What if the parties cannot agree?
What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a written agreement that describes how parties will work together to care for and make decisions about their child when they do not live together. A party can be a biological, step, or adoptive parent. A party could also be someone recognized by the court as having forged a parent-child bond. This is called a de facto parent. A parenting plan can also be called a custody agreement.
A parenting plan provides a guide that can be used as parties handle child-related issues, such as when the child spends time with each party (parenting time or physical custody) and how decisions about the child are made (decision-making authority or legal custody). A parenting plan allows the parties to decide what is best for their family rather than having the court decide.
Maryland courts require parties to submit a parenting plan in any Maryland case involving a minor child's custody. Parties will receive parenting plan documents at their first court hearing.
NOTE: Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) cases do not require a parenting plan.
To assist in developing a parenting plan, the Maryland Courts have developed the Maryland Parenting Plan Instructions and Maryland Parenting Plan Tool. Parties will receive copies of these at the first court appearance. They are also available on the Maryland Courts website.
The Parenting Plan Instructions and Tool list factors to consider when drafting your plan, responsibilities that should be addressed in your plan, and options you might want to include in addressing the responsibilities detailed in your plan.
Factors to Consider
- The stability, health, and welfare of the child.
- Frequent, regular, and continuing contact with parties who can act in the child’s best interest.
- The parties’ ability to share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child.
- Maintaining the child’s relationship with each party, any siblings, other relatives, and individuals who are or may become important in the child’s life.
- The child’s physical and emotional security and protection from conflict and violence.
- The child’s developmental needs, including physical safety, emotional security, positive self-image, interpersonal skills, and intellectual and cognitive growth.
- The child's day-to-day needs (including education, socialization, culture and religion, food, shelter, clothing, and mental and physical health).
- How to:
- place the child’s needs above the parties’ needs;
- protect the child from the negative effects of any conflict between the parties; and,
- maintain the child’s relationship with the parties, siblings, other relatives, or other individuals who have or likely may have a significant relationship with the child
- Age of the child.
- Any military deployment of a party and its effect, if any, on the parent-child relationship
- Any prior court orders or agreements.
- Each party’s role and tasks related to the child and how, if at all, those roles and tasks have changed.
- The location of each party’s home as it relates to their ability to coordinate parenting time, school, and activities.
- The parties’ relationship with each other, including
- how they communicate with each other;
- whether they can co-parent without disrupting the child’s social and school life; and,
- how the parties will resolve any disputes in the future without the need for court intervention.
- The child’s preference, if age-appropriate.
Responsibilities to Address in Your Parenting Plan
The Parenting Plan Instructions require that your plan should address each of the following responsibilities:
- Decision-making authority (legal custody)
- Day-to-day decisions are the responsibility of the party/parties the child is with at the time, such as how the child should dress, or their home routine.
- How will major decisions such as medical and mental health care, education, religious training, extracurricular activities, communication among the parties, and information sharing be made?
- Parenting time (physical custody)
- When will the child spend time with each of you?
- How will you address holidays, school breaks, vacations, out-of-state travel, and other special days?
- Transportation and exchange of the child
- How will you transport the child?
- Where will exchanges occur?
- How will you decide who cares for the child when you are unavailable?
- How will you maintain the child’s relationships with family members?
- How will you resolve disputes relating to the parenting plan?
- Other issues you may want to address
- The child’s names. Names used to refer to step-parents or other adults.
- Circumstances requiring parental consent (driving, marriage, military service, employment, etc.).
- Restrictions on what the child is exposed to (entertainment, firearms, all-terrain vehicles, etc.).
A parenting plan can be reached at any point in the custody process. Parties can work separately, together, or with the help of a mediator to develop a parenting plan. The goal is to develop a plan that reflects the best interest of the child and is workable and acceptable to the parties. Remember that the Maryland Parenting Plan Tool is an example of a parenting plan. You are not required to use the tool as is. If the tool works, use it to develop your own. While the tool includes many options, you should add any provisions that are important to your family.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 9-204.1
The parties agree, now what?
After the parties complete a parenting plan, they should submit the written agreement to the court. A judge will review the agreement while considering the best interest of the child factors. After that, the parenting plan will be incorporated into a court order, and the terms of the parenting plan will be enforceable.
What if the parties cannot agree?
If the parties cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court will decide what is in the best interest of the child. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, they must file a Joint Statement of the Parties Concerning Decision-Making Authority and Parenting Time. The purpose of this Joint Statement is to pinpoint areas of agreement and disagreement. The Joint Statement is available on the Maryland Courts website or from the clerk of court. A mediator can assist with preparing the Joint Statement.
The Joint Statement should be filed at least 10 days before a settlement conference, or 20 days before trial (if there is no settlement conference). The parties have specific deadlines for preparing the Joint Statement:
- 30 days before the deadline: parties must prepare and exchange proposed Joint Statements
- 15 days before deadline: plaintiff must serve on defendant a proposed Joint Statement that fairly reflects the positions of the parties
- Defendant must file the Joint Statement by the deadline
If the defendant refuses to sign the Joint Statement, they should file the Joint Statement and a written statement of their objections.
Read the Rule: Md. Rule 9-204.2