Going through a divorce with minor children will involve you and your ex making several decisions about their future care. Ultimately, how you share decision-making and time with your kids will become part of a court-ordered parenting plan that you and your ex will be required to follow. Often parents will negotiate and develop their own plan terms rather than leaving decisions about their family up to the court. When they can’t agree, each parent can ask the court to grant their request for their preferred parenting plan terms. Therefore, it will be crucial to know which terms you need in your parenting plan as you proceed through your case. Here is more on the key elements to include in your parenting plan.
California Parenting Plans
In California, a parenting plan, also known as a “custody and visitation agreement,” is a written document that establishes how parents will share their time with their children and make decisions about their education, care, and well-being. At first glance, it may seem like setting up a schedule and determining parental rights and responsibilities are relatively straightforward tasks. However, depending on the situation, figuring out the best way to share time and decision-making authority can be complicated. When parents disagree, vital issues, such as where a child will spend the summer or Thanksgiving, what medical treatment they can receive, and where they will attend school can become contentious.
Types of California Custody
In California, there are two types of custody that will be reflected in your parenting plan: 1) Legal Custody and 2) Physical Custody.
- Legal custody refers to a parent’s authority to make choices regarding their child’s education, health care, and overall well-being.
- Legal custody decisions typically include matters such as where a child lives and attends school, their medical and mental health treatment, where they travel, their participation in extracurricular activities, and their attendance during religious services.
- Physical custody refers to when a parent has their child with them for purposes of visitation or “time-share.”
- Parents who have joint physical custody typically each have the right to spend a substantial amount of time with their kids. If one parent has sole or primary custody, the kids usually stay with that parent most of the time while the other has scheduled visitation.
When both parents are safe and appropriate, California law generally supports parents sharing joint legal and physical custody. Further, under California law, where the parents have agreed to joint custody, there is a presumption that joint custody is in the best interest of a minor child.
Joint Decision Making (Legal Custody)
When parents share joint custody, they have an equal say in several important areas of their child’s life. However, depending on the degree of conflict between them, it may not be practical to expect parents to agree on certain issues. Further, just because parents have joint legal custody, that does not necessarily mean that they will have equal decision-making authority over all issues in their child’s life. Some choices, such as what a child eats or when they go to bed, will usually be made by the parent who has visitation at the time.
There can be times when parents disagree over significant issues. For instance, one parent may want their children to receive a particular medical treatment while the other does not. In that situation, it would be necessary for the parents to have a way to decide. When parents share authority over these types of issues, it may work best if they agree upon a third party to whose judgment they can both defer. For example, in the case of medical treatment, they could agree to accept their child’s pediatrician’s recommendations regarding care.
There may also be an issue with one parent being more available to make choices for their child. For example, suppose the child lives with a parent for most of the school year and sees the other mainly in the summer. In that circumstance, it may be more logical for the school year parent to have the primary authority over school-related and emergency medical decisions while their child is living with them.
Legal custody is one of the key elements to include in your parenting plan, and it will be essential to consider these and other possible contingencies as you develop your decision-making terms.
Your Physical Placement Schedule
Visitation schedules can be as unique as the people they involve and can look any number of ways. For instance, some families prefer for children to spend alternating weekends and holidays with each parent, while others may decide that sharing placement every other week is more workable. There can also be situations where a child’s school schedule and extracurricular activities factor into how the schedule will be arranged.
As you develop this key parenting plan term, consider what visitation pattern works best for your kids and is the most realistic for you and your circumstances. In many cases, when a proposed arrangement is reasonable and considers everyone’s needs, parents can work towards an agreement that fits their family circumstances.
Distance and Transportation
One thing to consider when creating your placement schedule is distance. If you and your ex live in the same neighborhood or area of town, sharing placement frequently may not be a problem. However, if you live across town or in another city, it may not be optimal or realistic to move the kids back and forth each week or every few days. Additionally, if you reside a considerable distance apart, you will also want to consider how transportation responsibilities and expenses will work. For instance, if your ex resides in Los Angeles and you live in San Francisco, it will be essential to establish how your kids will be transported to and from placement time and who will be responsible for any associated expenses. Additionally, you may need to consider how custody exchanges will work if you or your ex were to move further away.
As you consider these key elements of your parenting plan, it can help to include language that plans for your present circumstances and those that may arise in the future.
Another term to consider is video and phone visitation when your children are with the other parent. You may want to add language to your parenting plan that allows you to have reasonable access to your kids through these electronic mediums. However, it’s important to be mindful of how much contact you are requesting or allowing during placement. If you, or your ex, are constantly texting or video chatting with your kids while they are with the other parent, it could end up interfering with the other’s visitation time.
Holiday Placement Time
Another matter to consider is how you and your ex will share special occasions and holidays with your kids. Some parents alternate having their kids on major holidays, while others may exchange custody on the day itself. There is also the matter of planning for your kid’s birthdays and other family special occasions. As you develop this essential parenting plan term, it may be helpful to think about the days that matter to you and the ones your ex may value.
You may also need to consider how the holiday schedule may impact your kids and their ability to enjoy the holiday. For instance, if exchanging custody in the middle of Thanksgiving would cause your kids to miss having the holiday meal with you or your ex and your respective family members, this may not be the best way to structure the day.
How your decision-making will work and your visitation schedule will look will depend on you, your kids’ needs, and your ex. One factor that can make a significant difference in a parenting plan’s success is flexibility. No plan is perfect, and chances are, there will be times when your visitation schedule doesn’t work for one reason or another. However, when parents are willing to work together and be flexible as needed, it can help minimize conflict and stress for everyone involved. That being said, cooperation and collaboration can be challenging, and it may not always be possible to work with your ex. If that is the case, having a comprehensive and clear parenting plan will be essential to helping you and your ex avoid disagreements and share decision-making and time with your kids.
These are just some of the features you will need in your California parenting plan. One of the best ways to identify the key elements to include in your parenting plan is by working with an experienced California family law attorney. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced California family law attorneys who can help you develop a clear and comprehensive parenting plan. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We assist clients along California’s Northern to Southern Coast, including San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin, San Jose, Gold River, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities.