How parenting plans work in California

A parenting plan, also called a custody and visitation agreement, is a written agreement that where and with whom the child of divorcing parents will and defines the times the child will spend with the non-custodial parent. The main purpose of creating a parenting plan is to agree on how to share time with the child and how the parents will make important decisions regarding the child's welfare, such as education and health. By putting an agreement in writing at the outset of their separation, the parents can reduce disputes later on.

A parenting plan is legally enforceable

A parenting plan can become a court order in California if both parents sign it, a judge signs it and the parents file it with the court clerk. This makes the document legally enforceable, and violation of it may result in criminal or civil penalties, or both.

What should a parenting plan include?

A California parenting plan should include details of physical custody and legal custody of the children. Physical custody concerns where the child spend time and with which parent he or she live. It can also include where the child spend time on holidays. Legal custody designates the parent who gets to make decision regarding the child's welfare, from religion, education, health and emergencies to when the child is allowed to learn to drive or work at a job. A parenting plan can also designate joint legal custody.

It is also important for the parenting plan to include transportation arrangements for the child to visit the non-custodial parent and return to the parent who has physical custody. California courts ask the parents to agree on the terms under which a parent may travels with the child. California courts also ask parents to define situations in which one parent must obtain a court order or a written permission from the other parent to allow travel with the child.

How to make the parenting plan work for you and your family

If you have a parenting plan, or are considering making one, the California family courts suggest the following:

  • Use a calendar to follow the agreed-upon visitation schedule.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. If things get heated, thinking of your ex as a business partner may work to help you stay calm.
  • Change the parenting plan if the plan isn't working - especially if it's not working for your child.

If you want to implement the most workable parent plan possible, consult a skilled family law attorney who understands how parenting plans work in California. He or she can work toward an amicable agreement that keeps everyone's best interests in mind.