If you are a parent who is getting a divorce, one of the most important aspects of your divorce will be child custody, and this will be addressed in a “parenting plan.” In California, divorcing parents must create a parenting plan, which is also known as a “custody and visitation agreement.”
Essentially, a parenting plan is a written agreement about timesharing (when the children are with each of their parents), and decision-making (this refers to how the parents decide on issues regarding their children’s education, religious upbringing, and general wellbeing).
When you and your spouse put together a written plan, it promotes stability because the entire family knows what to expect and there should be less conflicts because everyone knows the shared parenting time agreement.
When you and your spouse sign the parenting plan, it’s reviewed by the judge overseeing your case. Once the judge signs off on your proposed parenting plan, it will become a court order and the document will be filed with the court.
California’s family court system urges parents to establish a parenting plan that is in the children’s best interests. That’s because the courts have found that when parents create schedules where both parents are active in their children’s lives, there is a lot less fighting over child custody and visitation, and the children do much better when they have frequent contact with both parents.
Remember, change is difficult for children so they are well-served by having ongoing, continuous contact with both of their parents before, during, and after the divorce.
What do I need to consider for our parenting plan?
For starters, you will need to be sure that your children’s basic needs are met. That being said, make sure that these fundamental needs are covered in the parenting plan:
- Adequate rest (especially on school nights)
- A diet low in sugar and rich in protein, fruits and vegetables
- Quality medical and dental care
- Love, guidance, and consistent household rules
No matter how you feel about the divorce or your spouse, please keep your children’s best interests at heart. Every family is different, thus is important to consider your children’s individual ages, medical conditions (if any), personalities, desires, and relationships with you and your spouse.
The ideal parenting plan adjusts to the children, NOT the other way around. If your two-year-old has been home with your spouse since birth, you don’t want to try and get custody of him or her just so you can put them in daycare full time; that hurts your child more than your spouse.
The idea is to try and create as much consistency as possible after the split, as children fare better when parents try to promote stability and continuity.
Here are some key points to remember:
- Adjust the plan to your children’s individual needs.
- Consider your children’s ages when writing the plan. For example, toddlers and teenagers may have very different needs than elementary school children.
- Be detailed enough that your plan is easy to stick with and enforce.
- Be consistent and give your children a reliable, predictable routine.
- Use a wall or desk calendar to help you remember the schedule.
- Try and get along with your ex for the “sake of the children.”
Be Willing to Be Flexible With Each Other
Even if it’s “your day” or your night, you have to be willing to be flexible sometimes, and so does your spouse. For example, if your child has the flu and it’s their turn to come to your house, think about your child’s best interests. If a 30 minute car ride would be difficult on your child, it may be better for them to stay with your ex until the fever passes.
Often, the distance between the parents’ homes is a key factor in such decisions. When it comes to illness, many parents agree that if the child was well enough to go to school, then the child is well enough to go to the other parent’s home. However, a child can come home from school with a severe case of the stomach flu, so that standard is not always applicable.
What Parenting Plans Should Include
Unless your case involves domestic violence (spousal abuse or child abuse), you should make sure that your parenting plan ensures that:
- You both have access to information about the children.
- You can both call the children.
- You can both have access to your children’s medical and school records.
- You both have each other’s home address, contact numbers, and email addresses.
Remember, all children are different and your children’s needs will be different than the needs of other children from divorce. For example, your child may have a very hard time going days without seeing the other parent, so it’s something to consider.
In the beginning, you may not know how long your child can go without seeing the other parent. Often, infants and toddlers do better when they can see both parents regularly.
Younger children have a different concept of time than older children, and may need to see both parents more frequently. Consistency is often key for preschoolers and kindergarteners. Generally, it’s best to establish a regular schedule and stick to it, that way children can look forward to a stable, steady routine they can count on.
When creating a parenting plan, think about the status quo before the split. What was the children’s relationships and routines like? Did your child have a nanny or go to daycare? You want to try and maintain consistency if possible, while maintaining frequent and continuous contact with both parents.
To learn more about what should be in your parenting plan, contact the Los Angeles child custody at Claery & Hammond, LLP!