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Shared Parenting Plans

A parenting plan should be more than a simple listing of dates and time, or a schedule of who will exchange the child and where. The parenting plan should serve as a road map for the parents' post-separation relationship, and it should be crafted to maximize the chances of fostering positive relationships with both parents.

Where feasible and in the child's best interest, shared parenting time comports well with the established policy of this State - to "assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents" and "encourage both parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy." N.J.S.A. 9:2-4. "Shared" parenting is subject to various definitions, but is most often identified as any arrangement in which the parenting time ratio constitutes a 35/65 to 50/50 percent distribution of parenting time. In New Jersey, shared parenting for child support purposes refers to at least 28% of the parenting time, an average of at least two overnights each week. However, a "true shared parenting" schedule is generally considered one in which both parents have the typical daily decision making and caretaking responsibilities for the child, such as making their meals, getting them ready for school, taking them to their activities, putting them to bed, etc., regardless of the specific amount of parenting time. Pascale v. Pascale, 140 N.J. 583 (1995).

There is a national growing trend and, in some states, a legal presumption in favor of shared parenting. Our Supreme Court, however, expressly declined to establish such a presumption in New Jersey. See Beck v. Beck, 86 N.J. 480 (1981).

In New Jersey, the court's main priority is to arrive at a reasonable parenting time schedule that is consistent with the best interests of the child and the rights of the parents. In cases which have two generally well-adjusted, involved, and active parents, healthy time sharing between parents should be supported. Still, shared parenting requires a willingness and ability to address significant practical considerations such as parents' work-life schedule and flexibility, financial resources, support networks, and the level of parental conflict, as well as issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, and a parent's overall psychological well-being. Fortunately, the factors set forth by the Legislature in N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c) require the court's thoughtful deliberation on these and other practical considerations:

  1. The parents’ ability to agree, communicate, and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
  2. The parents’ willingness to accept custody and any history of unwillingness to allow parenting time not based on substantiated abuse;
  3. The interaction and relationship of the child with its parents and siblings;
  4. The history of domestic violence, if any;
  5. The safety of the child and the safety of either parent from physical abuse by the other parent;
  6. The preference of the child when of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent decision;
  7. The needs of the child;
  8. The stability of the home environment offered;
  9. The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
  10. The fitness of the parents;
  11. The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes;
  12. The extent and quality of the time spent with the child prior to or subsequent to the separation;
  13. The parents’ employment responsibilities; and
  14. The age and number of the children.

N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c).

These factors help the court in determining appropriate parenting plans on a case-by-case basis that will mutually serve the best interests of the child as well as protect, encourage, and enrich the child's relationship with both parents. A presumption for or against shared parenting does not account for the differences among families in divorce.

Instead, parenting plans should be tailored to support the development and maintenance of strong, healthy attachments with each parent, including opportunities for direct care from each parent, and should adapt to the child's needs as he or she grows. Although the court can determine a parenting plan, it is almost always best if parents are able to establish their own parenting time schedules with any assistance that may be appropriate.

If you and the other parent cannot agree on a parenting plan, you have the option to file a motion with the court or you can meet with a mediator, counselor, or attorney to help you develop one. Once a parenting plan has been developed, it should be submitted to the court and filed as an order. Children want and need to have a strong relationship with both parents, and a well-crafted parenting schedule can ensure they have and maintain that relationship.