California child custody: Understanding what goes into a parenting plan

Resolving child custody is among the most important issues to divorcing parents. An essential component of the child custody order is the parenting plan. If parents are able to agree, they will create and detail most of the plan themselves without the risk of ceding control of the decision to the judge. The term "parenting plan" is often thrown about with the assumption parents understand what it reflects and how it can best function.

At its core a parenting plan reflects how parents will make decisions concerning the children's education, health and general welfare. These are generally legal custody points. The plan should also contain a schedule that outlines when the children will be with each parent. The schedule addresses physical custody points. A written plan will help set expectations and will therefore better manage and reduce conflict.

When it comes to physical custody and scheduling, parents need to think about everyday care and the type of activities their children will participate in. The schedule needs for a child not yet in school are going to be different than a child in grade or high school. Parents should think about where the children will stay during the week and weekend. Parents should consider which parent is going to be responsible for what activity, such as homework and extracurricular activities, as well as costs of transportation. Parents should also consider where the children will be for holidays and vacations. Finally, parents should consider who will be in charge at these different times. Regarding legal custody decisions, parents should think about which decisions they will make together or separate regarding school, emergency care, daycare, medical care, religion and driving and part-time jobs or jobs over the summer. Moreover, parents should be clear and specific on all of these items.

The parenting plan becomes a court order after the plan is signed by both parents, approved and signed by a judge, and filed with the court. Making the parenting plan work in practice is a different type of art than creating the plan.

How to make parenting agreement work

Communication is important. Since divorce can be fraught with emotion and because disagreement naturally occurs, parents should try to approach communicating with the other parent as they would a business partner. When speaking be polite, control emotions and stay on subject, which is making the best decision for the child. Again, parents should also be clear and specific with their communication and keep records of important decisions just like an important business decision. As in business, parents should keep their word, especially to the children. Importantly, parents should not make their children be go-betweens or put the children in the middle of a disagreement.

To help reinforce and organize agreements and schedules parents should use a calendar. It should be put in a place that is easy for children to read as well. As time progresses observe how the children handle the schedule and respond to their feedback. Allow the children to voice how they feel about the change in their lives and what needs they may have. Parents can also communicate with each other on the progress and adjustments of the children. If the child is not adjusting, talk with the other parent to find resolution.

How a family law attorney can help

While parents have the ability to create their own parenting plan, the advice of an experienced family law attorney can help parents more fully consider their circumstances and implement those considerations into a parenting plan that works best.