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What to Include in a Parenting Plan—Making the Ideal Parenting Plan for Your Custody Case

If you're engaged in a child custody dispute, at some point you'll need to draft a parenting plan. Parenting plans lay out the terms for custody arrangements, so the more comprehensive and well-thought-out yours is, the better.

Knowing what to include in your parenting plan is vital if you want to receive a favorable outcome in your custody battle. Today, we're covering everything you need to know about making the ideal parenting plan in California.

How Do Parenting Plans Work?

As you proceed with your custody dispute, you'll have two options for how to handle your custody case:

  1. Draft a joint parenting plan with your co-parent. If you and your co-parent agree on how to handle custody, you can develop a parenting plan together. The court will then approve the parenting plan by signing off on it, finalizing the custody order.
  2. Handle the custody battle in court. If you disagree with your co-parent regarding custody and the matter is litigated, each party will include his or her parenting plan as a part of their pleadings. The court will then examine those parenting plans and develop a parenting plan the judge presiding over the case thinks is in the best interest of the children. In this scenario, the parties must also attend mediation and at least one hearing/trial date.

Even if you're not on the best terms with your co-parent, you should consider working with them to create a joint parenting plan.

If you can compromise with your co-parent and develop a parenting plan together, you can avoid other steps of the custody process, like attending hearings or a trial. Negotiating a mutually beneficial parenting plan can make the overall custody process less stressful for both children and parents.

Developing a parenting plan with your partner also enables you to have more influence over the final parenting plan than relying on the court to establish the terms of your custody arrangement for you. Many parents are more satisfied with the outcome of their custody dispute when they work together to develop a parenting plan. A negotiated parenting plan has the benefit of being developed by two people who love your child and who know your child well, rather than a judge who means well but does not have the benefit of having spent any time with your child before deciding what is in her or her best interest.

Of course, it's not always possible for parents to work together. If you're estranged or one parent displays certain behavior (domestic, child, or substance abuse, for example) that makes them unfit to act as a caregiver, relying on the court may be your best option.

What Do I Have to Put in My Parenting Plan?

In California, every parenting plan has to cover the following topics:

  • Physical custody. Physical custody determines which parent the child lives with. If the child spends an equal (or roughly equal) amount of time with each parent, the parents have "joint physical custody." Parents must makes a variety of decisions regarding physical custody, including:
    • How many days (or weeks) the child spends with each parent, and which weekdays each parent has the child;
    • How the parents will handle holidays, summer vacation, and other vacations;
    • How the parents will handle the child's responsibilities and activities (sports, homework, doctor's and teacher's appointments, etc.);
    • Where, when, and howthe parents will exchange custody.
  • Legal custody. Legal custody pertains to decisions affecting the child’s health, safety, and welfare, and governs the following areas:
    • Where the child goes to school;
    • Whether the child attends daycare;
    • What kind of medical and dental care the child receives;
    • What kind of emergency care the child receives;
    • How the child should handle employment and driving (for older children).

Typically, courts prefer joint custody arrangements (where the child spends time living with each parent). However, if one parent:

  • Commits acts of child abuse or neglect;
  • Has an unsafe home;
  • Is mentally or physically incapable of caring for the child;
  • Has a poor record of pursuing the child's best interests;
  • Refuses to comply with the terms of the custody order;
  • Refuses to behave appropriately around the child;
  • Does not care for the child's needs;
  • Abuses alcohol or other illegal substances;

Or engages in any other act or behavior that makes them "unfit," the court may award sole custody to one parent to protect the child's best interests. Ensuring the child’s best interests are served is the court's top priority during custody disputes.

As long as your parenting plan covers physical and legal custody, the court will accept it. However, courts encourage parents to make their parenting plans as detailed as possible. The more detailed your parenting plan is, the easier it will be for you to avoid conflict with your co-parent. That being said, let's cover some other stipulations you might want to make in your parenting plan.

Don't Disparage One Another in Front of the Child

You may want to include a clause that prevents the parents from disparaging one another in front of the child. No child wants to feel torn between their parents. Including a clause that stops the parents from including the child in parental disagreements can help reduce conflict in the family dynamic.

Set Limits for Parental Interactions and Behavior

If you're engaged in a joint custody arrangement where the parents need to see each other fairly frequently, you should set down some guidelines to encourage a healthy relationship with your co-parent. Decide how you'll handle the following elements in your parenting plan:

  • How can parents communicate with a child when they don't have custody? The last thing you want is your co-parent bombarding your kid with facetime calls or texts when you're trying to spend time together.
  • How will you communicate with your co-parent? It may not be a bad idea to have a curfew, and relegate any communications past a certain hour to "emergencies only" territory.
  • When will the parents be together? Will you attend parent-teacher meetings, sports events, or medical checkups together? Deciding this beforehand can help reduce friction between you when you do inevitably have to spend some time together.

We hope this blog has given you some ideas for how you can improve your custody arrangement and minimize conflict with your co-parent while enabling your child to thrive.

At Bremer Whyte Brown & O'Meara, our experienced custody attorneys can help you create the ideal custody arrangement with for your child.

To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (949) 229-8546.