We all want to make sure our children are not hurt by a divorce, separation, or breakup. [State] courts also want to do their part to make sure that parents get quality time with their children because both parents, absent a valid reason like serious abuse, should be able to develop strong bonds with their children. When it comes to allocating time with a child, however, it can become a difficult, emotional experience. Who gets the child when and where can be a contentious issue, and that's why parenting plans are useful. In fact, most states require them now.
At The Geller Firm, we know parenting plans are useful tools that can help keep emotions at bay and establish boundaries and guidelines by which the parents must follow. Our family law attorney in California can help you create a comprehensive, thoughtful parenting plan. We will negotiate on your behalf, and – even when your ex still does not agree to the plan – help you establish a solid parenting plan that a judge will appreciate when trying to determine what is in the best interests of the child. If you need a parenting plan, contact our office today at 415-840-0570 to schedule a consultation.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a guide instructing when each parent has custody or visitation of a child (among other things) entered into by agreement by the parents, or if the parents cannot agree, ordered by a court. It states how much time each parent gets to spend with the child and when that time will occur. In some states, it is known as a custody agreement or child allocation.
Parenting plans are a good idea for any situation where the parents of a child are not in a relationship, but both want to be involved in their child's life. Even if two parents are able to get along, it is best to have a parenting plan in place for any disagreements that may arise in the future.
Factors to Consider When Making a Parenting Plan in California
A well-crafted parenting plan addresses any foreseeable situation that may arise. It allows both parents to be involved with their child and to know when they can expect to spend time with their child. While many plans are similar, every situation is different and the parenting plan should address any unique conditions. Common matters to consider are listed below.
The Child's Needs & Age
Younger children and children with special needs will demand more consideration and work than older children and children without special needs. This should be taken into account when creating a parenting plan.
Some children do well going between two different houses while others do not. This should be taken into account as well.
Physical Distance Between the Parents
A parenting plan between two parents that live in the same town will likely look very different from a parenting plan where the parents live on different coasts. The amount of distance and the time it takes to exchange the child should both be considered.
Distance is important because it may mean the child will have to fly, and if so, parents may have to decide who flies with the child or if the child can fly unaccompanied. More issues exist and must be addressed when the parents are not located near one another.
Primary Caretaker & Work Schedule of the Parents
When one parent has consistently been the primary caretaker of the child, it may be more difficult for the child, especially when they are younger, to spend a significant amount of time away from that parent. It is best to avoid big changes to a child's routine, as they may not adjust well.
The work schedule of both parents should be considered when creating a parenting plan. Some parents have work schedules that make it difficult for them to be involved in the day-to-day care of their child. They may also travel often or, if in the military, may be stationed abroad, making it difficult for them to know when they will be available.
History of Abuse
Does one of the parents have a history of being physically or emotionally abusive? Have there been allegations of domestic violence? Or, do they live with someone who is abusive? The safety of the child is paramount, and if abuse of any type is suspected, it may be in the best interest of the child that the visitation is supervised.
Under the umbrella of abuse, you may want to consider any chemical substance abuse issues, too. Is one parent an alcoholic or addicted to any type of drug, prescription or otherwise? This is important information that must be considered and proven if allegations are made. We strongly advise against any false allegations in the hopes of getting sole custody of a child.
Every child is different, and their age and their ability to make important decisions should be considered when they want to have a say in the parenting plan. If they are older, it is a good idea to listen to their preferences. That said, many jurisdictions allow a child at a certain age to choose which parent they spend most of their time with.
Holidays & School Breaks
Parenting plans should address with whom the child spends the holidays (e.g., Christmas, New Year's Eve, Thanksgiving, Labor Day weekend, etc.) and extended breaks (e.g., spring break or summer). It may be that alternating holidays is a good idea, or if you live near one another, splitting holidays in half.
Child's Education & Extracurricular Activities
Children often have busy schedules involving school, homework, sports, and other extracurricular activities. Are both parents supportive of the child's schedule and willing to ensure the child is able to attend meetings and practices? What impact does the child's schedule have on the ability of the parents to exchange the child mid-week? The parenting schedule should take these matters into consideration.
How Do I Change a Parenting Plan in California?
Parenting plans are generally court-ordered, and as such, cannot be unilaterally changed. When one or both parents requests a change in the parenting plan, the court will first consider what is in the best interest of the child. Although it varies by jurisdiction, many courts only modify orders when there has been a significant change in circumstances, such as a change in one parent's ability to care for the child. Other states will only consider a modification if it has been a certain amount of time since the order was entered. Still, other states will allow a child to choose who they will live with once they obtain a certain age.
To find out what is needed to change a parenting plan in your jurisdiction, it is best to speak to a family law attorney in California.
Do We Need a Parenting Plan if We Live in Different States?
Yes, a parenting plan is necessary even when parents live in different states. One state will have jurisdiction over the parenting plan although more than one state may meet the necessary criteria to have jurisdiction. In cases where more than one state could have jurisdiction, the state where a petition for custody is first filed is the state that will most usually have jurisdiction.
Parenting plans can be construed to address the unique circumstances that arise when the parents live in two different states. They may even restrict the ability of one parent to move the child without the permission of the other parent. The parenting plan will need to adhere to the guidelines of the state that has jurisdiction.
Do I Need a Parenting Plan During the Divorce Process?
Parenting plans are useful tools. If you are married but are in the process of getting a divorce, a temporary parenting plan is also useful. It can outline and establish expectations for you and your spouse. In doing so, the hope is that any bitter or contentious feelings may be contained.
To note, the temporary parenting plan may not be the final version, but it can give you an idea of what to expect. This allows you the time and space to make or negotiate changes to a parenting plan that may be mutually agreed upon and/or ordered by the court.
Contact a Child Custody Lawyer in California Today
Parenting plans are a great way to outline who has custody when and where. These plans can be proactive to address any potential contingencies. They can also be flexible. It is really up to you and your child's other parent. At The Geller Firm, our child custody attorney in California will help you create and negotiate a parenting plan in the best interest of the child. If it becomes contentious and the judge must decide on a fair parenting plan, we will advocate for you so that your rights are protected and the other parent's responsibilities are upheld. Contact us at 415-840-0570 or fill out our online form to schedule a consultation today.