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Forming parenting plans

Parents going through a divorce in California must make a parenting plan, which serves as an agreement about custody and visitation. While courts can make child custody decisions, it is usually better when both parents come to an agreement on their own. The parenting plan is intended to give parents and children a schedule of what to expect to avoid conflict and provide stability.

A parenting plan includes a schedule that lists when a child or children will be with each parent and may also list commitments a child has and which parent is responsible for overseeing each commitment. The parenting plan also states how both parents will make major decisions concerning the welfare of a child.

Determining physical and legal custody is a big part of the parenting plan and may dictate how the rest of the plan is formed. Physical custody refers to who a child lives with, and legal custody involves the right to make major decisions for a child. Parents can share both legal and physical custody and can determine how often a child lives with each parent, how to handle holidays and can even split the responsibility for making major decisions. For example, a parent who is an educator may want to make decisions about schooling while one who is a doctor may feel most qualified to make health care decisions.

If it is possible, both parents should try to form a parenting plan together before using court intervention. This offers parents flexibility that a court ruling may not and gives both parents a choice when making child custody decisions. If disputes arise, negotiations or mediation may be helpful. These processes could help parents communicate better and resolve issues, and both are usually less costly and quicker than a court hearing.

Source: Judicial Council of California, "Parenting Plans", December 09, 2014

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