We all want to ensure a divorce, separation, or breakup does not hurt our children. California courts also want to do their part to ensure that parents get quality time with their children because both parents, absent a valid reason like serious abuse, should be able to develop strong bonds with their children. When it comes to allocating time with a child, however, it can become a difficult, emotional experience. Who gets the child when and where can be a contentious issue, and that's why parenting plans are useful. Most states require them now.
At Compass Legal Group, APC, we know parenting plans are useful tools to help keep emotions at bay and establish boundaries and guidelines the parents must follow. Our family law attorney in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties can help you create a comprehensive, thoughtful parenting plan. We will negotiate on your behalf and – even when your ex still does not agree to the plan – help you establish a solid parenting plan that a judge will appreciate when determining what is in the child's best interests. If you need a parenting plan, contact our office today at (805) 852-5141 to schedule a Free 30-minute Consultation.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a guide instructing when each parent has custody or visitation of a child (among other things) entered into by agreement by the parents, or if the parents cannot agree, ordered by a court. It states how much time each parent gets to spend with the child and when that time will occur. It is known as a custody agreement or child allocation in some states.
Parenting plans are a good idea for any situation where the parents of a child are not in a relationship but both want to be involved in their child's life. Even if two parents are able to get along, it is best to have a parenting plan in place for any disagreements that may arise in the future.
Factors to Consider When Making a Parenting Plan in California
A well-crafted parenting plan addresses any foreseeable situation that may arise. It allows both parents to be involved with their children and to know when they can expect to spend time with their children. While many plans are similar, every situation is different, and the parenting plan should address any unique conditions. Common matters to consider are listed below.
The Child's Needs & Age
Younger children and children with special needs will demand more consideration and work than older children and children without special needs. This should be taken into account when creating a parenting plan.
Some children go well between two houses, while others do not. This should be taken into account as well.
Physical Distance Between the Parents
A parenting plan between two parents that live in the same town will likely look very different from a parenting plan where the parents live on different coasts. The amount of distance and the time it takes to exchange the child should both be considered.
Distance is important because it may mean the child will have to fly, and if so, parents may have to decide who flies with the child or if the child can fly unaccompanied. More issues exist and must be addressed when the parents are not located near one another.
Primary Caretaker & Work Schedule of the Parents
When one parent has consistently been the child's primary caretaker, it may be more difficult for the child, especially when they are younger, to spend a significant amount of time away from that parent. It is best to avoid big changes to a child's routine, as they may not adjust well.
The work schedule of both parents should be considered when creating a parenting plan. Some parents have work schedules that make it difficult for them to be involved in the day-to-day care of their children. They may also travel often or, if in the military, may be stationed abroad, making it difficult to know when they will be available.
History of Abuse
Does one of the parents have a history of being physically or emotionally abusive? Have there been allegations of domestic violence? Or do they live with someone who is abusive? The child's safety is paramount, and if abuse of any type is suspected, it may be in the child's best interest that the visitation is supervised.
Under the umbrella of abuse, you may also want to consider any chemical substance abuse issues. Is one parent an alcoholic or addicted to any type of drug, prescription or otherwise? This is important information that must be considered and proven if allegations are made. We strongly advise against any false allegations in the hopes of getting sole custody of a child.
Every child is different, and their age and ability to make important decisions should be considered when they want to have a say in the parenting plan. If they are older, listening to their preferences is a good idea. That said, many jurisdictions allow a child at a certain age to choose which parent they spend most of their time with.
Holidays & School Breaks
Parenting plans should address with whom the child spends the holidays (e.g., Christmas, New Year's Eve, Thanksgiving, Labor Day weekend, etc.) and extended breaks (e.g., spring break or summer). It may be that alternating holidays is a good idea, or splitting holidays in half if you live near one another.
Child's Education & Extracurricular Activities
Children often have busy schedules involving school, homework, sports, and other extracurricular activities. Are both parents supportive of the child's schedule and willing to ensure the child is able to attend meetings and practices? What impact does the child's schedule have on the ability of the parents to exchange the child mid-week? The parenting schedule should consider these matters.
How Do I Change a Parenting Plan in California?
Parenting plans are generally court-ordered and cannot be unilaterally changed. When one or both parents requests a change in the parenting plan, the court will first consider what is in the child's best interest. Although it varies by jurisdiction, many courts only modify orders when there has been a significant change in circumstances, such as a change in one parent's ability to care for the child. Other states will only consider a modification if it has been a certain amount of time since the order was entered. Still, other states will allow a child to choose who they will live with once they obtain a certain age.
It is best to speak to a family law attorney in California to find out what is needed to change a parenting plan in your jurisdiction.
Do We Need a Parenting Plan if We Live in Different States?
Yes, a parenting plan is necessary even when parents live in different states. One state will have jurisdiction over the parenting plan, although more than one state may meet the necessary criteria to have jurisdiction. In cases where more than one state could have jurisdiction, the state where a petition for custody is first filed is the state that will most usually have jurisdiction.
Parenting plans can be construed to address the unique circumstances when parents live in two different states. They may even restrict the ability of one parent to move the child without the other parent's permission. The parenting plan will need to adhere to the guidelines of the state that has jurisdiction.
Do I Need a Parenting Plan During the Divorce Process?
Parenting plans are useful tools. If you are married but are in the process of getting a divorce, a temporary parenting plan is also useful. It can outline and establish expectations for you and your spouse. In doing so, the hope is that any bitter or contentious feelings may be contained.
The temporary parenting plan may not be the final version, but it can give you an idea of what to expect. This allows you the time and space to make or negotiate changes to a parenting plan that may be mutually agreed upon and/or ordered by the court.
Contact a Child Custody Lawyer in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties Today
Parenting plans are a great way to outline who has custody, when, and where. These plans can be proactive to address any potential contingencies. They can also be flexible. It is really up to you and your child's other parent. At Compass Legal Group, APC, our child custody attorney in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara Counties, will help you create and negotiate a parenting plan in the child's best interest. If it becomes contentious and the judge must decide on a fair parenting plan, we will advocate for you so that your rights are protected and the other parent's responsibilities are upheld. Contact us at (805) 852-5141 or complete our online form to schedule a Free 30-minute Consultation today.