When parents decide to separate and divorce, the court will want them to draw up and present a parenting plan. This may sound daunting, and it can be; it requires patience and negotiation. But in the end, it helps prioritize what’s right for the child. Read on to learn more.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan (sometimes called a custody and visitation agreement) is a document that details how the separated or divorced parents will allocate the rights and responsibilities involved in raising their children. If there are multiple children in the family, the same agreement can apply to all of them. Occasionally, one child has a reason to have a different plan than another, but usually, one agreement works for all.

These plans cover two important but separate concepts: Physical and legal custody.

  • Physical custody. As the term implies, this determines where the child will live. There are two types of physical custody, but one of them is much more prevalent.
    • Joint custody. This means that the child will live part of the time with one parent, and part of the time with the other. It could be that the child goes back and forth between the different parents’ homes, or the parents may move back and forth to allow the child to have just one home. California courts prefer this type of custody, because both parents will be actively involved in their child’s life.
    • Sole custody. When one parent has the child living with them full-time, that’s sole custody. It may be due to one parent living far away from the other, with the noncustodial parent having visitation rights. However, the courts may order this when there are extenuating circumstances in the separation or divorce, such as one parent is unfit due to being an addict or guilty of domestic or sexual violence. 
  • Legal custody. This involves the important decisions involved in raising a child other than custody, such as education, religious upbringing (if any), medical care, extracurricular activities, and camps, among others. 
    • Joint custody. When parents have joint legal custody, they both will be involved in these kinds of decisions. Not every decision is a large one that needs both parents’ input; a question of whether or not the child can have a friend over to play Saturday afternoon can be handled by the parent who has the child on Saturday. But all of the bigger decisions should involve both parents.
    • Sole custody. There are times when it makes more sense for one parent to have sole legal custody, including the same reasons listed for sole physical custody.

What Needs to Be in a Parenting Plan?

The parenting plan must contain well-thought-out details about how physical and legal custody will be handled. This may require considerable negotiation between the parents, something that can be difficult if the separation or divorce is acrimonious. That’s why it’s strongly recommended that each party have a knowledgeable child custody attorney working with them, both to help with the negotiations and also to help each side manage expectations realistically.

It’s a good idea to be as detailed as possible. If joint physical custody is the goal, provide information about the proposed schedule and where the child will live. If joint legal custody is sought, provide the categories that the parents agree they must work together on.

What Else Could Be in a Parenting Plan?

Although it sounds exhausting to go into this level of detail, the more filled-out the parenting plan is, the more likely the court will accept it, and the easier it will be to activate it. While the legal custody determines the bigger issues, it’s not a bad idea to identify some potential trouble spots and try to address them before they become contentious. That could include one parent who’s habitually late and how that will be handled, how the child will be covered with health insurance or how their medical bills will be paid, or how child-related expenses will be managed. There are cases where one parent required the other to give them first rights of refusal before hiring a babysitter for an evening. In other cases, parents set up deadlines for each other to respond when decisions need to be made.

Sometimes parents will also specify rules for things like taking the child on vacation or how they want to divide holidays and school breaks. It can even include smaller details such as where pickup and dropoff will happen when the child is being exchanged for joint custody or visitation. Again, every family is unique, so their needs and their parenting plans will be too.

How Should I Approach Developing a Parenting Plan?

First of all, make a list of every aspect of co-parenting you can think of. Determine what your priorities are and consider what you’re willing to negotiate about. Negotiation is likely to happen, so as much as you’d want things all to be a certain way, know that you may have to conceded on some issues.

What Should I Do if I Need to Start Work on a Family Plan?

CCall the Sarieh Law Offices at 949-828-2267 (Newport Beach) or 714-694-7723 (Santa Ana) for a free 30-minute in-depth case evaluation. Every family and its needs are unique. We’ll guide you through the options for yours and help you determine what the best approach will be. We know that your children are so important, and you want to do what’s best for them.