In California, the courts allow parents to come up with their own parenting plan before a judge will intervene and issue a custody order. Creating a strong parenting plan can help you and your co-parent stay in control of what the future looks like for your family. If a judge signs off on your plan, you will get to decide where your children live, when they will see each parent, and how they will be cared for. Learn everything that should be in a parenting plan to improve your odds of avoiding court.
Parenting Time Schedule (Physical Custody and Visitation)
Your parenting plan must organize a schedule that allocates specific blocks of parenting time to each parent. Your custody schedule can be strict or flexible depending on what works for you and your family, including how well you and your ex communicate and cooperate. If it is difficult to come to a compromise with your ex, a stricter parenting time schedule may work better for your family. Otherwise, you can leave it more open-ended and flexible to adapt to your schedules and your child’s changing needs.
Parenting time refers to physical custody of a child or visitation rights. Physical custody means the child is under the allocated parent’s roof for the days decided. Visitation means the parent does not have physical custody of the child but is allowed to visit at either supervised or unsupervised meetings. This may be the best option if the parent has done something to break his or her trust in the child or could be a potential danger, such as a history of child abandonment or domestic violence.
Make your parenting time schedule as detailed and complete as possible. Include the general physical custody schedule as well as specific plans for holidays, vacations and special occasions. Mapping these dates out ahead of time can make it easier for your family to navigate them when they arise, avoiding confusion and keeping things predictable and consistent for your children. It can also show the courts that your parenting schedule is well-thought-out and complete.
Your parenting plan must also address legal custody of your children. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions on behalf of a child. This includes the child’s religious practices, education, extracurricular activities, health care, mental health counseling needs, cell phone access and screen time, travel, and discipline methods.
Depending on your relationship with your ex-spouse and the circumstances of your case, you two may decide to both have legal custody. This is the most common arrangement in a divorce settlement with a joint custody plan. However, you could decide to only give legal custody to one parent if this is in your child’s best interest.
The Golden Rule: Your Child’s Best Interests
While it is important to work out the fine details of your parenting plan, it is also critical to make sure the plan as a whole upholds the child’s best interest. A judge will not sign off on a parenting plan that does not serve what is in the best interest of the child. This means what will best protect the child’s physical health, mental and emotional well-being, safety, happiness, and welfare.
Your parenting plan should be in keeping with what is best for your child based on his or her age, relationship with either parent, emotional ties with the child’s home and community, the ability of each parent to care for the child and any potential risks that could harm the child. These include any history of parental violence, domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, or criminal activity.
Once you complete your parenting plan, you will submit it with the rest of your paperwork to file for divorce. A judge will carefully review your parenting plan and will sign off if he or she believes the plan has protected the child’s best interest. This will finalize your divorce settlement and turn your parenting plan into an official custody agreement. Should you need to modify your parenting plan later, you can submit a modification request with assistance from an attorney.