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Many people who have a child together cannot sustain their relationship and come to the difficult decision to end their romantic involvement and live apart. Thus, it becomes necessary to determine how to share custody of the child they parent together. While co-parents generally wish to divide custody in a manner that benefits the health and welfare of the child, they do not always concur as to what division of custody is in the best interest of the child. If they can agree, however, they can develop a parenting plan that generally allows them to determine what custody arrangement best suits their needs without protracted litigation. If you are interested in learning more about parenting plans in the context of child custody, it is in your best interest to meet with a dedicated San Diego child custody lawyer to evaluate your options for seeking an arrangement that is beneficial for your child and allows you to enjoy your parental rights.Developing a Parenting Plan
In cases in which the parents of a child can come to an agreement regarding how custody should be divided, they can draft a parenting plan. The plan should indicate each parent’s rights and obligations, and the parents should consider the child’s age, the child’s needs, the mental and physical health of the parents and the child when developing the plan. They should also aim to provide their children with a healthy and stable environment and a consistent schedule. Regardless of how amicable the parents’ relationship may be, it is prudent for each party to have the agreement reviewed by an attorney to ensure they are not waiving any rights.
Once the agreement is complete, the parties must file the appropriate Court documents and sign a stipulation indicating they entered into the agreement knowingly and voluntarily. The plan will ultimately be submitted to a Judge for review. In most cases, the Judge will approve the plan if they find it is in the best interest of the child involved.What to Include in a Parenting Plan
Under California law, parenting plans must contain provisions defining both legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make important decisions for a child, such as where the child will attend school, what medical care the child will receive, and what religious practices, if any, the child will observe. A parent with legal custody also has the right to determine where the child will reside and if the child will participate in any extracurricular activities. Physical custody, on the other hand, is a parent’s right to have a child live with them.
Legal custody may be joint, which means each parent has a right to make decisions for the child, or one parent may have sole legal custody. When parents share legal custody, they most likely will not agree on every decision, but they should communicate and attempt to come to a mutual agreement to avoid the need for further intervention from the Courts. Physical custody may be joint as well, which means that the child will live with both parents, but in some cases, one parent will have sole physical custody. When parents share joint physical custody, it does not necessarily mean that custody is divided equally. Rather, one parent may spend more time with the child while the other parent has limited visitation. In cases in which physical custody is not divided equally among the parents, the parent who spends more time with the child is often referred to as the primary custodial parent.
The Courts have the discretion to award any division of legal and physical custody they deem to be in the best interest of the child, irrespective of what is in a parenting plan. Factors assessed in determining what is in a child’s best interest include the health of the child and the parents, each parent’s resources and ability to provide for the child, the child’s relationship with each parent, and whether there are any siblings in either household.
While the law does not require parenting plans to contain any terms other than those defining physical and legal custody, generally, the more detail they contain, the better it is for all parties involved. For example, parents should include information regarding when and where custody exchanges will occur and who will be responsible for picking up and dropping off the children. It is also smart to set forth provisions defining how decisions should be made. In other words, which choices parents can make independently and which require input from the co-parent, and how long one parent must wait for a response to an inquiry before acting alone.
Many parenting plans also include terms requiring each parent to give their co-parent a right of first refusal before contacting a babysitter or other caretaker. It is prudent to set a minimum amount of time that triggers the provision as well. Parenting plans should also define who is responsible for things like the child’s health insurance and other expenditures. More significant expenses, like daycare, medical bills, tuition, and extracurricular activities, are often divided equally. At the same time, everyday costs, such as food, clothing, and entertainment, are usually borne by the parent currently enjoying physical custody of the child. Regardless of what terms parents agree on for any of the aforementioned issues, it is critical that they are set forth in writing in the parenting plan to avoid any confusion or discord in the future.Meet with a Dedicated California Child Custody Attorney
Sharing custody of a child can be challenging, but when parents can agree on a parenting plan, it often benefits them and their children. If you need assistance with a child custody matter, it is advisable to meet with a lawyer as soon as possible. The dedicated San Diego child custody lawyers of Doppelt and Forney APLC have ample experience helping parents protect their rights, and if we represent you, we will work diligently to help you seek a good outcome. You can reach us through our online form or call us at 800-769-4748 to set up a free and confidential meeting.