A parenting plan is different from a child custody agreement between unmarried or divorcing parents. It is not merely an agreement, but also a guide. It allows parents who share custody to establish rules and strategies for how they will work together to raise their children in two separate households.

Parenting plans can be incredibly helpful for families, but they were not always necessary. Recent updates to Maryland law have changed that, and now specify that parents must have such a plan in place if they face a custody case.

New state guidelines for parenting plans

As of January 1, 2020, Maryland family courts now require parents to create parenting plans in all custody cases involving minor children taken to court.

Maryland was one of few states that did not obligate parents to make such plans before this, but Maryland Courts report that enforcing this new requirement can help ensure parents:

  • Prioritize their child’s best interests and needs;
  • Remain focused on the child during the divorce;
  • Encourage parental collaboration; and
  • Reduce stress and conflicts.

If parents negotiate or modify their custody arrangement in family court, they will have to create a parenting plan together, separately or with a mediator. Then they must submit it to the family court for review and approval.

What must the parenting plan include?

According to the Maryland Parenting Plan Instructions, parents should address several specific details within their parenting plan, including:

  • The rules and responsibilities for decision-making;
  • Rules for parental communication;
  • Guidelines for parenting time;
  • Outlines of parenting schedules, including holidays;
  • Instructions for transportation and custody exchanges; and
  • Strategies for dispute resolution.

Even though Maryland courts provide several resources for parents to review when making their parenting plan, parents can also customize their plan to ensure it meets their family’s needs. In these cases, parents should consider speaking with an experienced family law attorney to establish a parenting plan.