Massachusetts family law attorneys need to draft parenting plans with the utmost care to make sure that uncertainty and ambiguity don’t undermine the best intentions. A court-ordered parenting plan governs how parents will share the “care, custody and management of their child.” What goes into a plan is often the result of extensive negotiations and mediation.
Parenting plan provisions must be clear, certain, and directive. The goal is that anyone who needs to review the plan, e.g., parents, judges, court personnel, school/daycare personnel, or law enforcement officials, can quickly find and understand the relevant provisions.
Ambiguous language can create conflict, result in unenforceable or impractical provisions, and often requires litigation to achieve clarity.
Regardless of the specific plan provisions, follow these tips for every parenting plan you draft to guide all parties towards maximum clarity and minimal conflict:
- Use an outline and label sections with headings.
- Use the simplest possible language, never exceeding a 12th-grade vocabulary and avoiding legalese.
- Keep sentences short.
- Use the present tense.
- Use the terms “legal custody,” “physical custody,” and “parenting time” to increase the probability of recognition and enforcement in other jurisdictions.
- Distinguish between duties and elective acts by using “must” or “may.” “Shall” creates ambiguity because it has at least eight separate meanings.
- Avoid provisos. The phrase “provided that” may be read as an exception, condition, addition, or limitation.
- Never use the passive voice; always specify who “must” or “may” do what.
- No one ever remembers who is the petitioner /plaintiff and who is the petitioner/defendant once they get off the caption page. Use “Mother” and “Father” (when the parents are opposite sex) or identify the parties in the first paragraph, and then refer to them consistently by name throughout the order.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or paternity action, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar either through email or telephone 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation to discuss your particular needs.