Making an effective parenting plan can be a challenge. Doing so takes time, patience, and the cooperation of your co-parent. It also requires basic research skills and legal knowledge.

The following is a guide to building your California parenting plan but is by no means a substitute for the advice of an experienced child custody attorney.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan in California is a custody and visitation agreement between a child or children’s parents. It defines each parent’s legal duties towards their child and provides a child custody schedule for custody exchange and visitation.

Any California parenting plan must be in the best interest of the child, not the parent(s). The following factors are considered by the court when deciding a child’s best interest:

  • The child’s age;
  • The child’s health;
  • The emotional ties between the parents and the child;
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child;
  • Any history of domestic violence or substance abuse; and
  • The child’s ties to their school, home, and community.

The court may take anything else into account that it deems relevant.

What Should be in a Parenting Plan?

Any parenting plan should discuss legal and physical child custody in detail. Legal custody may be held by one parent alone or shared by both parents jointly.

A child’s legal custodian makes any significant decisions regarding their education, medical care, and religious upbringing. If one parent has legal custody, be sure to address whether the other parent may provide consent for emergency treatment or different situations.

Physical custody refers to a child’s residence. Parents may share physical custody, or one parent may be the primary physical custodian. Like legal custody, there are several factors to take into account when making a physical custody plan, such as a child’s extracurricular activities, transportation to and from visitation, and dedicated homework time.

Maintaining Contact and Consistency is Key

Whether or not parents share legal or physical custody, a parenting plan should ensure both parents maintain contact and are consistently present in their child’s life.

Unless it is against a child’s best interest, both parents should have:

  • Access to any medical records;
  • Access to any school records;
  • One another’s home address, email, and phone numbers;
  • The ability to call the child during regular waking hours; and
  • The ability to attend any school or extracurricular events.

When creating a parenting plan, the age of a child must also be considered, as younger children are shown to need more consistent contact with both parents to develop a healthy parent-child relationship. All children benefit from stability and routine schedules.

Sample Parenting Plan Schedules

There is no proper parenting plan schedule for every family. The court has standard visitation schedules parents may review and consider. These are based on the distance between co-parents and a child’s age.

Family law attorneys can recommend creative schedules that have worked for past clients or help create a customized plan. Regardless, any schedule chosen by parents must be realistic and age-appropriate for their child.

For parents with joint physical custody, meaning close to half-time with each parent, a parenting plan schedule may have any of the following:

Biweekly Rotation

This is one week on, one week off with each parent.

A 2-2-5-5 or 3-3-4-4 Rotation

A child spends two days with one parent, then two days with the other. Then back to the first parent for five days, then five days with the other. The protocol is similar to a 3-3-4-4 rotation

A 2-2-3 Rotation

Here a child spends two days with the first parent and two days with the second. Then three days with the first. The cycle repeats itself, giving each parent a three-day weekend with the child every other week.

Other parenting schedules alternate weekends and allows for mid-week visitation. This can be a viable option for parents who live close to one another. Parents who live far away may choose extended visitation over seasonal school breaks and alternating holidays.

Always schedule holidays, birthdays, and other significant days in advance.

Communicate with Your Co-Parent

Communicate with your co-parent when creating your parenting plan. Once your parenting plan is signed by the judge and filed with the court, it becomes an enforceable court order.

Work through disagreements in negotiations or mediation with child custody professionals. Do not treat your parenting plan or the consequences of disobeying its stipulations lightly.

A mutually acceptable agreement will probably work better for you and your children than a court-imposed custody and visitation order.

When a Co-Parent Refuses to Cooperate

If a co-parent refuses to cooperate in creating a parenting plan, make one on your own. The court may adopt your schedule if it is in your child’s best interest.

If you appear in court without a parenting plan, but your co-parent has one, the same is true. The court may accept their plan with little or no input from you.

Avoid These Parenting Plan Mistakes

Parenting plans must be in the best interest of the child, not the parent or parents. The court will not approve any plan that puts a parent’s needs or desires ahead of their child.

A parenting plan can be too vague. A plan without detailed instructions and schedules leaves room for interpretation. Often co-parents disagree when doing so benefits them.

There should be a dispute resolution clause. It is unrealistic to go to court over every parental disagreement. Find other ways to resolve conflict and document it in the parenting plan.

Be sure to address relocation. If a parent chooses to move, how will this affect custody and visitation? There are standard provisions parents can adopt.

For some parents, out-of-state or international travel restrictions are vital in a parenting plan.

Speak with a California Child Custody Attorney Today

If you need help with your California parenting plan, reach out to an experienced attorney today. At Fernandez & Karney, we can offer you creative solutions to your most complex custody problems.