California courts are strongly “pro-child.” Typically, decisions are based on the best interests of any children involved in a divorce or legal separation. Let’s look at a few questions frequently asked about parenting plans.
What is a parenting plan?
When a divorcing couple have children, they need to agree on how to care for them. Also called a custody and visitation agreement, the parenting plan sets out how physical and legal custody will be handled.
To avoid misunderstandings, a parenting plan should include specific provisions about each parent’s responsibilities and obligations. For example, a plan might state who will handle:
- Health care and medical treatments,
- School, educational, and extracurricular activities,
- Exchanging the children after a visit,
- Parenting styles,
- Child care; and
- Travel and relocation.
Courts look for a plan that provides the best possible solution for the children.
What if parents can’t agree on a parenting plan?
The first step is mediation. Both parents work on sample plans with their attorneys, then present their proposed parenting plans to the mediator. Although mediation is not legally binding, mediators often facilitate agreements between disputing parents.
However, sometimes mediation fails. If so, the couple schedule a hearing where their parenting plans can be presented for the judge’s consideration. The court renders a decision, sometimes with the help of independent counselors or the mediator.
What happens after we sign the parenting plan?
When parents are able to agree, then they simply submit their parenting plan to the court. Unless the judge sees something wrong with the plan – something that is not in the best interests of the children – the plan usually is approved.
Our parenting plan was approved. What now?
Follow the parenting plan. If you find that sections are not working, talk to your attorney about adjustments.
Any of the following behaviors may violate the terms of your parenting plan:
- Trying to turn your child against his or her other parent,
- Being late when it is time to return your child after visitation,
- Refusing to allow visitation at all, or
- Refusing to handle educational or healthcare decisions as agreed.
When you violate your parenting plan, you are violating a court order. A judge may hold you in contempt of court. The consequences could be as simple as attending a parenting class or as severe as jail time.
The driving principle behind a parent plan is to act in the best interests of the child. Make sure your parenting plan is right for your children.
Ms. Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. Please call us at 415-293-8314 to talk about your divorce. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger assist clients in San Francisco, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), and surrounding communities. We are opening a Beverly Hills office soon.