Delaware Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in Delaware and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for Delaware courts.
You can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
The laws pertaining to child custody and visitation can be found in the Delaware Code and you should adhere to them when creating a parenting plan in the State of Delaware.
Title 13 of the Delaware Code, Domestic Relations, contains the laws applicable to child custody and family restructuring. Familiarizing yourself with the laws will prepare you for what to expect in court and will also help you create a parenting plan that the Court will accept.
The Court makes decisions regarding custody in accordance to what is in the best interests of the child, and when parents can set their differences aside and work together to create a mutually agreed upon parenting plan, that is certainly in the child's best interests.
The Delaware Code (13 Del. C. § 772) mandates that the court shall use the best interests of the child as a determinant when making decisions regarding the legal and physical custody of a minor child.
The Court is to consider all relevant factors when determining what is in the best interests of the child, including:
- The custodial and residential preferences of the child's parents
- The custodial and residential preferences of the child
- The interaction and dynamic of the personal relationships the child has with any persons who may significantly affect the child's best interests, including, but not limited to the parents, any siblings, grandparents, persons living with the parent, (such as a boyfriend or girlfriend), and any other people that may reside in a household with either parent
- How the child is acclimated to his current home, school and community
- The physical and mental health and well-being of all persons involved in the child's life
- The present, as well as past history of compliance by both parents as to their parental rights and responsibilities
- Whether or not there is evidence of domestic violence
- Any criminal histories of either parent or any resident of the parent's household
The statute also concedes that the Court makes no preference as far as presuming one gender is more qualified and able to parent than the other. The sex of the parent is not to be considered a factor when determining child custody, and neither is any conduct of a parent that has had no effect on the child (13 Del. C. § 722.b).
In Delaware, parents can either have joint legal custody or one parent can have sole legal custody, which means the child primarily resides with that parent and has visitation with the other parent (13 Del. C. § 727).
Whether the parents have joint legal custody or one parent has sole legal custody, each parent has the right to receive (on request and when practical) all material information concerning the child's progress in school, medical treatment, significant developments in the child's life, school activities and conferences, special religious events, and other activities that the parent may wish to participate in.
Each parent has the right to reasonable telephone and mail access the child, and vice versa. The Court may only restrict these rights if there is evidence that exercising these rights would prove to be harmful to the child.
The Court shall decide who your child will live with and determine a visitation schedule, but if you are able to reach a custody agreement, the court will usually finalize it without any problems because the court views these agreements as in the best interest of the child.
Presenting a parenting plan to the Court that reflects the Court's view on fostering meaningful relationships between the child and both parents while also considering the best interests of the child provides the Court with a favorable option to choose from.
Even if you are unable to reach an agreement with the other parent, it is a good idea to submit a proposed parenting plan to the court so the court has some insight into the situation and your wishes. It gives the court something else to consider besides a standard arrangement.
A parenting plan in the State of Delaware should include at least the following features:
- A comprehensive child visitation schedule that also includes holiday and vacation schedules.
- A list delegating parental responsibilities, such as who will be responsible for making decisions about significant things in the child's life, such as education, medical treatments, and religious matters.
- A plan for resolving any future disputes between the parents, such as counseling or mediation, etc.
- Provisions for modifying the plan in the future as the needs of the child changes as he grows and matures.
- Boundary stipulations that prevent one parent from moving away from another in order to restrict access between the child and the other parent. You may include verbiage that mandates the other parent retain a residence in the county or within a certain mile radius of the child's school, etc.
- A first right of refusal clause that provides the other parent with the opportunity to have additional parenting time in the event a baby sitter or other care giver is needed for a designated amount of time.
Based on these guidelines, your Delaware custody agreement needs to have information about how the parents will divide or share legal custody, information about the primary residential parent and a visitation schedule, and any other information that will help the parents maintain a strong relationship with the child.
The state encourages parents to work together and come up with an agreement that both parents can support. If the custody arrangements are contested, the parents can start a custody proceeding in the Family Court of the State. The court will then determine the legal custody and residential arrangements for the child.
The Court may also grant temporary custody for a period of up to six months to give the parents an opportunity to demonstrate their willingness and ability to cooperate with the arrangement.
At the end of the temporary order, the Court will review the order and can either permanently continue the order as it is or modify it (13 Del. C. § 727.b.1). This is a good way to ensure your parenting plan is functioning appropriately and an opportunity to make any changes if needed.
The top ten cities in Delaware (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Wilmington, Dover, Newark, Pike Creek, Bear, Brookside, Hockessin, Glasgow, Claymont, North Star.