Married spouses with children will require a parenting plan. This parenting plan can be negotiated between attorneys, but the court will have the final say when it comes to signing off on the parenting plan and enforcing it.
While couples can enter into most agreements without the court's approval, issues related to children require oversight. It is assumed that divorcing couples have a lot of emotions toward the other party, and the children often become a battleground. Even when parents enter into an agreement voluntarily, the agreement may not reflect the best interests of the children. In these cases, the court will force the parents to come up with a new plan that reflects the children's best interests. If they cannot, one will be provided for them.
In this article, we will discuss parenting plans and how they work.
Parenting plans: The basics
Simply put, a parenting plan outlines the responsibilities of both parents post-divorce. It is a contract signed by both parties that delineates their rights and responsibilities to both the children and the other parent. As a contract, it has the force of law behind it. The parenting plan will address all of the following issues:
Custody arrangements - Where do the children live most of the time? Who has legal power of attorney? How do the parents make decisions concerning school and health care? These are the sorts of issues that are addressed in custody agreements.
Visitation schedules - Visitation is a separate matter from custody. A parent may have the right to visit and spend time with a child but not have legal custody or power of attorney. It is assumed by the courts that having both parents in a child's life is ideal. So, even if one parent is not granted custody, visitation arrangements are still possible.
Communication between parents - As part of a standard parenting agreement, undermining the authority or manipulating the children against the other parent is generally sometimes necessary to address. So, a parenting plan could include language that forbids this type of communication about the other parent.
Dispute resolution - Disputes probably will emerge, but they should not be a reason to break the whole parenting plan or unilaterally decide to end the parenting plan. The parenting plan will detail the proper means of resolving disputes. There could be consequences for not resolving disputes in the manner that the parenting plan outlines.
Legal versus physical custody
Custody is a concept with multiple definitions under California law. Basically, you have custody of a child if you have legal decision-making power or power of attorney over the child. Physical custody refers to where the child spends most of their time. So, in most cases, children end up with their primary caregiver in the primary family home. However, the other parent may still have the right to make legal or educational decisions for the child should the need emerge.
The above-mentioned scenario describes joint custody arrangements. The children generally still stay in the family home, and one parent generally has primary physical custody, but the other also has power of attorney.
In cases where one parent does not have custody of the children, they may still have a right to visit the children. The visitation schedule, in order to be enforceable, must be filed with the court.
What does a visitation schedule need to include?
Visitation schedules can often be complex because they are superimposed over your regular schedule. Matters pop up, and sometimes, the parents cannot meet the needs of the schedule. When those things happen, it is important to have some means of dealing with a potential dispute. For a visitation schedule to be useful to both parents, it should include all of the following:
Make-up time - If a visitation needs to be re-arranged, then the parenting plan will discuss how that happens. It will also establish best-practices for cases when something comes up, and the parent cannot make the visitation.
The plan must establish a regular schedule - The visitation schedule needs to be specific, and both parents need to adhere to it absolutely. The schedule will be regular because regular schedules and routines are best for children. The children should know that they will be spending time with their mom or dad at specific times. The schedule will also need to address holidays.
Transportation arrangements - In some cases, parents may not want to be in one another's presence. In other cases, drop-offs can be handled amicably. In either event, the matter of transportation and drop-offs will be addressed in the parenting plan.
There are a number of seemingly conflicting pressures in even the best parenting plans. The plan must be flexible enough to accommodate the needs of busy parents, but it also must be standardized in a way that is best for the children.
It is broadly assumed that children need routine and structure and do best in situations that they are used to and comfortable with. While divorce creates upheaval in the emotional lives of children, establishing a new routine can help avoid some of the emotional fallout of a rapid change situation. The parenting plan must thus be flexible enough to trap and deviation from the standardized schedule but standardized enough to create a routine for the children.
Best practices and general principles
When constructing a parenting plan, the parents need to keep in mind that the plan is all about the best interests of their children. When parents put their own needs above those of their children, it shows. Parenting plans that put the children first respect the children enough to know that their emotional health is contingent on having a strong relationship with both parents. Ultimately, parenting plans that are built around the best interests of the children and signed by parents who place their own needs below that of their children are the most effective. So, the best parenting plans are entered into with a value system that places the children first. Even parents with serious issues with one another can make a plan work if they keep this general principle as a guiding principle and act with the decorum of a parent and not a divorcee.
Talk to a Sacramento Divorce Lawyer Today
The Sacramento, CA, divorce attorneys at Wagner Family Law can help you craft a parenting plan that respects your schedule while meeting the needs of your children. Call today to schedule an appointment, and we can begin addressing your concerns immediately.