It’s a new year, so naturally, you’re ready for a new you — one without your current spouse. However, as you contemplate filing for divorce, you worry about how the marital breakup will impact your children. And you wonder how you can address child custody in the least hostile manner possible.

The good news is that most people resolve cases involving child custody without the need for going to divorce trial. How? Through informal divorce negotiations between both parents, which may lead to a mutually satisfactory parenting plan. Here is a rundown on how parenting plans work in New Jersey.

A primer on parenting plans

Parenting plans are agreements that divorcing individuals create to deal with issues concerning child custody as well as visitation. In this type of agreement, you and the other party can spell out who will have physical custody of your child. In other words, in whose home will your child live? Also, you can record a visitation schedule that will work for both parents and for the child.

Another important part of the parenting agreement is an explanation of who will make essential decisions concerning the welfare and upbringing of your child. In other words, who has legal custody of your child? In addition, where will your child go for birthdays, vacations and holidays? You and your spouse should ideally describe this in your agreement as well. Finally, it is critical that you explain how you both will handle changes to your parenting agreement, or disputes related to the agreement.

Next steps

After you and the other parent have assembled a parenting agreement that reflects both of your wishes, you will need to present this to a family law judge. The judge will likely use a hearing to ask you if you both understand the agreement’s contents and signed the agreement voluntarily, rather than by force. If the judge believes that you both have negotiated your agreement fairly, you can expect the parenting plan to receive his or her approval.

How an attorney can help

Drafting a parenting plan can understandably be complicated, as a comprehensive agreement addresses many important points. However, an attorney can help you to communicate your wishes and ensure that your final agreement reflects them. Most importantly, the attorney will make sure that the plan reflects the best interests of your child.