What are Parenting Rights and Parenting Plans?

New Hampshire courts use a variety of terms to describe the rights of parents, including: decision-making rights and responsibilities, residential responsibilities, parenting rights and parenting schedule.  These terms are intended to reflect the true nature of parenting responsibilities, rather than using old terminology referring to children as if they were property belonging to one parent or the other, such as physical custody, primary custody, legal custody, residual rights or visitation rights.

The New Hampshire’s legal vocabulary eschews the term “custody” in favor of various descriptions that better define each parent’s role and responsibilities.  “Legal custody” is used in many jurisdictions and was previously used in New Hampshire to describe the parental responsibilities of caring for children and making major decisions about children (i.e. choices surrounding healthcare, education, safety and religion).  “Legal custody” is now known as “decision-making responsibility.”  The law presumes, absent a history of abuse, that parents will share responsibility for making major decisions about the care of their children.

In years past, “physical custody” was used to define a child’s schedule.  The terms used today, which are more simple and accurate, are “parenting schedule” and/or “residential responsibility.”  Parenting schedules are designed with a focus on the best interest of the child.  Parenting schedules establish each parent’s rights to time with their children during regular weeks, vacation weeks, holidays and three day weekends.  Labeling parents as the “primary” and “residual” caretakers of children is no longer appropriate because a parenting schedule is required in each case.

In New Hampshire, the parenting schedule and other parental rights and responsibilities are set forth in detailed documents known as “parenting plans.” A parenting plan is required in any case with minor children.  Parenting plans are either created by the parents or ordered by the court after a contested temporary or final hearing on parenting rights.  The level of detail contained in a parenting plan will be determined by the issues presented in a case.  Some cases benefit from very specific provisions to clarify rights and responsibilities.  Other cases, especially when children are near the age of majority, require minimal detail.   Parenting plans should be designed to fit the needs of each family.  The New Hampshire Circuit Court website offers a very basic parenting plan at www.courts.state.nh.us/forms/nhjb-2064-fs.pdf .  This parenting plan is a good starting point for discussions about parenting rights.

Certain provisions must be addressed in every parenting plan, even those with minimal detail.  These topics include: (a) decision making responsibility; (b) parenting schedule (including vacations and holidays); (c) legal residence for school attendance; (d) transportation; (e) information sharing; (f) rights of access to the children, including telephone and electronic access; (g) relocation of a child’s residence; (h) procedure for review and adjustment of the plan; and (i) process for resolving disputes in the future.  Parents often add greater detail to parenting plans.  Such additional terms are unique to each case and are included to avoid or resolve disagreements about parenting matters.  Examples of additional terms often desired by parents are non-disparagement provisions, clarification of rights to decide certain issues, further definition of how parents will handle exchanges of the children, procedure for making changes to the schedule, provisions relating to travel, contact information and/or emergencies, selection and use of child care providers, and a determination of parenting time in the event of sick or snow days and various special occasions.

Parenting plans should be designed to address the unique needs of the parents and children in each situation.  Detailed plans are an excellent way to provide clarity, resolve issues before they arise and streamline the interaction of parents on issues relating to their children.

 

About the Author: Margaret Kerouac

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