When a couple with children divorces in California, they must draft what is called a Parenting Plan, otherwise known as a “custody and visitation agreement.” The Parenting Plan is a detailed written agreement that outlines how the parents are going to handle time-sharing and decision making. Time-sharing refers to when the children will be with each of their parents, and decision-making refers to how the parents are going to decide on their children’s education, health and general welfare.
Can you imagine getting a divorce without a written Parenting Plan? Without a written plan that is approved by the court you could easily have disagreements with your former spouse. You could argue over who gets what day, and who gets to spend the holidays with the kids. You could find yourself getting into many conflicts, which could send you straight back to court for “something in writing.”
A Parenting Plan solidifies who is going to see the children and when. It determines how parents are going to handle certain situations, such as illness and birthdays, so everyone knows what to expect. Parenting Plans eliminate the confusion so parents and children can understand and follow the same rules and the same schedule.
“Your parenting plan becomes a court order after it is signed by both of you, signed by the judge, and filed with the court,” according to the California Courts. Our advice is to come up with a Parenting Plan that is truly in your children’s best interests. In our experience, children of divorce do much better when:
- Their parents get along.
- Both parents are able to be active in the children’s lives.
- The parents do not fight over child custody and visitation.
- The parents respect each other and are flexible.
- The parents try to keep the children’s lives as consistent as possible.
What Does the Parenting Plan Address?
A Parenting Plan is a comprehensive agreement that address all of children’s needs and concerns, including:
- Meeting your children’s basic needs for love, guidance and protection.
- Providing your children with a healthy diet.
- Providing your children with quality medical care.
- Ensuring your children get adequate rest.
As you know, each child is different. A Parenting Plan for a 16-year-old will be very different than a Parenting Plan for a toddler. If your child is autistic, disabled, or has unique personality traits that require a lot of sensitivity and understanding, be sure to adjust the plan to your child – don’t make your child fit to a plan that is unreasonable or impractical.
For example, let’s say that Anne and Michael were getting a divorce. Anne has been a stay-at-home mom since the couple’s five-year-old son, “Jack,” was born. Michael has been on the road Jack’s whole life, spending only the weekends at home. In this scenario, it wouldn’t make sense to have Jack live with his dad most of the time, only to be cared for by a nanny he’s never met. That just wouldn’t be fair to Jack.
Instead, it would make more sense to maintain the status quo and have Jack continue living with his mother, who would take him to kindergarten and pick him up after school. Even if Jack’s mom had to go back to work, it would still make more sense to have her take care of him rather than to have Jack move in with his father and be cared for by strangers during the week. As you can see in Jack’s example, parents should always do what’s in the children’s best interests. They cannot simply create a plan that will upset the child and turn their lives upside-down just because it “looks good” on paper.
Tips on Making Your Parenting Plan Work
When you and your spouse sit down and draft a Parenting Plan, make sure you’re both honest with yourselves and realistic. Think about your current situation. How do you handle the kids right now? Who takes them to school? Who tucks them in bed at night? Who feeds them? When you start to draft the plan, follow these tips:
- Be consistent. Create a schedule that includes regular times for day-to-day care, overnight visits, extracurricular activities, homework, holidays, birthdays, and vacations with each parent. We recommend using a calendar.
- Make sure your plan is detailed enough that it’s easy for you both to understand, there’s no room for confusion, and it’s easily enforced.
- Don’t make your plan vague or unpredictable. Instead, give your children a routine that’s easy to remember and reliable.
We want to impress the importance of flexibility. For example, let’s say you have a three-year-old who has the stomach flu. Instead of forcing your child to drive twenty miles to their other parent’s house, consider keeping your sick child at home with you. Of course, the age of the child and the seriousness of the illness have to be considered. If your three-year-old child merely has a cold and the other parent lives ten minutes away, there’s no reason to keep the child if they’re in good spirits and could easily travel.
Essentially, Parenting Plans deal with physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the children will be living and how they will be spending their time with each parent. Legal custody refers to decision making; for example, making important decisions about the children’s schooling, medical and dental care, religion, and jobs and driving for teenagers. The ultimate goal is for the Parenting Plan to be comprehensive while keeping your children’s best interests in mind.
To learn more about creating a Parenting Plan, contact our firm to meet with a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer. All of our initial consultations are free.