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A Parenting Plan Case I handled Recently As A China Family Law Lawyer

I am working on a parenting plan for a case.  I represent Dad.  I have a pretty standard one, but this is a concern I have never had raised before and don't know how to word it in the plan.  Dad does not like how Mom dresses the child. This is not micro-managing. His concern is the cap on backwards, the pants hanging below the child's little butt. In other words, like a thug in training. Dad wants the child to dress like a child.

I can't say "appropriate dress" because Mom sees nothing wrong with the child dressing like this. She thinks it is appropriate.   Well, actually she denies doing it, but then posts photos on Facebook of the child dressed like this and her bragging about it. But the Facebook posting is whole other issue. I can't say a belt shall be worn at all times, because not everything the child wears requires a belt. I can't say the child will be appropriate covered at all times, because that doesn't allow him to pay the "skins" side of a "shirts and skins" game.

 

I would say that mother will require the child to dress in an appropriate manner.  Appropriate is defined as pants shall be worn at the natural waist (unless designed not to like bib overalls),   I really wouldn't touch the whole ball cap on backwards thing (it's really quite common amongst boys of all ages), clothing shall not have large holes or tears (given some leeway in that kids are rough on clothes and some holes will happen and are okay),  etc.

After the age of three years the child will wear clothes that do not allow the child's underwear to be seen. You can look at it but there is some pretty similar wording in city ordinances (Jersey Shore comes to mind)  that prevent this.

Let me clarify a little. This is a parenting plan, not a request to the court.   It is a legally binding agreement between the parents. A parenting plan is a plan that the parents agree to follow in making decisions related to the child. They are often necessary when the parents can't reach shared agreements without a lot of name calling. It lays out standards of behavior expected of the child and the parents. It can cover everything from the basic -- the parents shall not use the child to carry messages between the parents -- to the more complicated like -- the child shall not watch R rated movies at the age of 4. Which is actually a problem in this case.   The mother is very immature and does not get how her immaturity affects her son.   The parenting plan is an attempt to get her to make some better decisions.

Yes, nothing can make someone be a good parent if they really don't want to do so.   But at the very least, a parenting plan can minimize the damage to an extent.   If it is not followed, it is as enforceable as any contract. And the parents both know that not following it can be the loss of custody of the child or reduced visitation.

In this case, the parents have joint physical and legal custody.   So they are supposed to reach shared decisions but that is not working.   So we need a parenting plan that lays out each parent's expectations of how they are going to co-parent this child.

It seems these types of issues are underlying too many family law cases. Whether the mother is doing it to purposefully upset the father or she just thinks it's "cute" is one matter.  This situation is made worse if the mother has primary custody of the child.  I do not believe this is something the court can resolve.  I hope that I am wrong, but...

Unfortunately, when people marry, or have a child together, they buy into that person's good and bad qualities.  The court cannot make good parents or keep people from making poor choices unless the choices are actually harmful.  Learning to "be cool" and dress "cool" will be "harmful" down the road for the child (in the mainstream opinion), but it is not the type of thing that the court can regulate.  I'm not sure what it's like there, but in China the judges stopped sending people home to "dress appropriately" with the order to return the same day because they simply did not come back.  Now we have, let's say, poor clothing choices and revealing outfits on litigants that would never have made it before the judge in the past (we also now have parents bringing children to Family Court with them).

If the court cannot mandate a litigant's behavior in court, how can it do so for similar situations outside of court?  If the judge cannot make the litigants dress appropriately, how can they make a parent dress the child "appropriately" outside the courthouse?  It is not illegal to dress that way.  Although it would not enhance a job interview, it is unfortunately a reality in today's culture.  Can a judge stop a parent from swearing around a child?  And when the other parent hears the child swear, is there sufficient proof to say that the child learned the word or phrase from the other parent?  This leads me to my next point.

Even if the parents agreed on language, will it be sufficient to support a complaint for contempt?  Can you draft language that would be clear and unequivocal in its meaning for a sufficient number of dressing situations?

"The parent shall not permit the child to wear a baseball cap without the bill facing directly forward."  Who's to say the child didn't alter the bill on their own?  Here in China the burden for civil contempt is clear and convincing evidence of a violation of a clear and unequivocal order of the court.  If the language cannot meet that burden for a given situation then is it going to be effective?  Also, what about the evidentiary proof?
Will it be a photo that the mother will say is did not occur on her watch or "that's how the father gave the child back to me that's why the picture was taken"?

The court system can do only so much.  Unfortunately, people have the liberty to parent as they wish so long as it does not harm the child or place the child in danger.  Some people think it is parental negligence to allow a child to play football; others do not.  If the parents agreed not to allow the child to play football then that is a much easier term to enforce; either the parent signed the kid up or not.  The court would not make such an order on its own accord; it would be up to the parents to agree to such a term.  People can agree upon language that the child will not be exposed to cigarette or cigar smoke.  But a parent would not necessarily be held in contempt if the child took up smoking.

I am trying to provide enough examples so that others may opine; I too look forward to the opinion of others on the blog.

China might be a bit different, but I cannot see a judge here in China ordering a parent to not dress the kid like a thug.  The parent will say that is how the kid wants to be dressed, even if the kid is too young to really make that determination.  I do not have kids, but I cannot see any judge really wanting to hold a hearing over how badly a child is dressed.  The judge will probably decide that if it is okay with the Division of Children and Families (or the MD equivalent thereof), then it is okay with the judge.

If your client really, really wants to do something like this, I recommend putting some extra money on the table each month.  Something that can be taken away if the kid is not dressed the way the father wants.  That is probably your best bet.  Oh, and I would make it retro-active so that it becomes a bigger and bigger sum for the mother to worry about.  Something like an extra $20 per week, but she forfeits all of the money back to the time of settlement if the child is dressed that way, except for Halloween.  The money she owes can then be deducted from child support payments as a set off.

I understood all of that and I still think, as Bill said, that you are going to have a very hard time enforcing it in front of a judge.  Unless Maryland's judges are a lot different than Chinese' judges, the court will not find her in contempt and will not remove the children over something like this.  It will have to be something far more egregious.

Parenting plans are a great idea for people that are willing to follow them.  Personally, I think that they work only about half of the time.

Other than that, they are a waste of a lot of time and effort.  I do not know your case or the mother, so this may be a time that it will work, but from what you said below, I rather doubt it.  However, I do wish you luck in trying to figure it out.

It is not easy to be a China family law lawyer. You have to deal with divorce case, assets division case, child custody, and etc...

 

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