Every parent understands the difficulty in planning their child’s future. Parents involved in legal proceedings, be they divorce or simple custody hearings, have even more concerns and dynamics to consider.
It can be difficult realizing that your child will no longer be living with you 24/7, and thoughts of losing time with your child can be both terrifying and nerve-wracking.
While parenting plan proceedings and meetings may have parents on the defensive, it’s important to maintain perspective. Parenting and custody is not a competition, and what is best for the child should always take precedence no matter what.
Children are not prizes passed to the “winner.” We all understand that, and yet all-to-often we hear stories of children caught between their parents’ legal battle. We want to make the transition as gentle on your children as possible. That’s why the attorneys at the Law Firm of Caryn S. Fennell believe wholeheartedly in the wisdom of Parenting Plans.
Parenting Plans represent legal agreements that lay out a clear schedule for children, and guidelines for parents to adhere to. These guidelines discuss each parent’s responsibility for co-parenting and their role in decision making.
Towards the end of a case pertaining to the custody and visitation of a child, the court requires the creation of a parenting plan before a final ruling can be given and proceedings can come to an end. However, a provisional parenting plan may be drawn up at the beginning of divorce proceedings as a temporary order to ensure the child in question is adequately looked after throughout the case.
It is rare for a parenting plan that was introduced as a temporary order to carry over to the final order, which means those satisfied with a temporary parenting plan should brace themselves for several alterations to be made near the completion of the case.
Mediation vs. Arbitration
A parenting plan will detail all aspects of each party’s relationship with the child as agreed upon in court. Unlike parenting plans arranged during mediation, a parenting plan developed by the Court may not take into account the wishes of each parent. For this reason, it is essential that both parties secure competent legal representation if they hope to achieve a particular result through the court process. You may hear the process discussed in terms of mediation or arbitration.
Drafting a parenting plan in mediation means that both parents meet with a neutral third party to discuss the plan. The mediator is not an authority— they can offer suggestions and seek to persuade either parent, but they cannot impose their opinion. On the other hand, drafting through arbitration means that you and your co-parent give the decision to an arbitrator. You both bring forward testimony and any evidence, and the meetings can be formal or informal. The final decision rests with the arbitrator.
Creating a Parenting Plan
A well-written parenting plan is a point of reference for steps to manage situations as they arise. It determines how you and the co-parent will communicate and resolve issues to avoid further conflict.
However, you need to keep in mind a few cautionary statements:
- No single schedule works for everyone. Parenting plans do not come in a perfect pre-existing contract. Whether you are looking at joint custody, traditional visitation every other weekend, “bird nesting” which allows the child to stay in one place while the parents switch out, or any variation, compromises will need to be made. If the plan comes in lieu of a divorce, the tone of that divorce can affect how well the plan
- Professionals such as judges and psychologists can advise you and your ex regarding a parenting plan, but they don’t have a way to know what is best for your child. Seasoned experts agree you, as the child’s parents are in the best position to determine this. Creating a parenting plan is about what is best for your child, regardless of either parent’s wishes.
- You need to consider the long-term, not just the next few hours, days, and weeks. Parenting Plans can be “living agreements,” which means they can be altered as your children grow or as your circumstances change. What may be an obvious solution for your toddler may not fit when they are a preteen. It may take a few iterations of the agreement for you and your ex to find a good balance to which your child reacts well. If you and your ex are willing to adjust as needed, you will be more likely to find the perfect solution for your child.
- The ages and number of children involved matters. A teenager has their personal schedule to consider; the more involved older children are in the process, especially teenagers, the easier drafting a parenting plan can be. While the security of siblings can help ease the shifting schedules, one or more child may not agree with what another wants in the plan. Younger children can benefit more from a “home base” perspective, while older children can adapt better to a more complicated schedule.
The focus of the parenting plan will always be maintaining your children’s well-being and keeping in mind their best interests. Plans can cover a variety of topics from how to handle important decisions regarding your child’s entire future by scheduling meals for a little consistency between both parents’ homes.
Parenting Plan Checklist
To help with the planning process, you can create a checklist of items you want to discuss with your co-parent. Topics to consider for your checklist include the following:
- Holidays and Special Occasions— explain how you will share time over holidays, school breaks, vacations, etc.
- Transportation— who will drive the children between locations? Will you meet in a neutral place or at each other’s homes?
- Travel and Vacations— how far in advance should parents notify each other of planned trips? Who will cover the child’s expenses?
- Schedule Changes— how much notice should a parent give to suggest a change? How will you discuss potential changes? How will you handle emergencies?
- Essential Decisions— while the court may decide this for you, both parents should consider how to make decisions regarding health care, discipline, religion, schooling, etc.
- Expenses— who will be in charge of your children’s cost of living? Medical expenses, extracurricular costs, clothing, and more.
- Communication— will you or your co-parent be able to contact your child during the other’s parent’s time? If so, how? Calls, messengers, and letters are all ways to consider.
Professional Representation When You Need it Most
If you are about to embark on a court battle related to the custody and visitation of your child, there are few practitioners of Georgia family law more suited to serve as your representation than the Law Firm of Caryn S. Fennell.
Our skilled and dedicated attorneys have worked extensively on custody and visitation cases. Our attorneys will aid you in the development of both a temporary and final parenting plan detailing the following issues (among others):
Perhaps the most critical portion of any parenting plan is that relating to the visitation rights of each parent. In most parenting plans, one parent will be acknowledged as the primary physical custodian, which is the parent of the child at the center of the case will spend the majority of their time. The secondary physical custodian will be granted visitation rights, though the allowed hours and the conditions under which visitation is permissible will vary from case to case. Often, the difference between meager and copious visitation rights is a quality legal team, which is why so many parents have enlisted the help of Caryn S. Fennell over the years.
Sharing of information
If both parents are to remain involved in their child’s life following the completion of divorce proceedings, it is essential that they agree to the sharing of information involving their offspring. If a child suffers a medical emergency under the care of one parent, a parenting plan with an adequate sharing of information edict will obligate that parent to inform their former partner of the situation.
If a parenting plan is to fulfill its purpose, it should include a portion about the disciplining of the child. This doesn’t relate to how the child is disciplined on a day-to-day basis but instead dictates how major behavioral issues will be tackled.
Parenting Plan Frequently Asked Questions
Is a parenting plan legally binding? That varies. If only signed and dated by both parents, a parenting plan is not lodged with the court and is not legally binding. In the case that a judge also approves your parenting plan, it then becomes a binding court order.
Can a parenting plan be registered? The CSRC Act provides that a parenting plan, counting as an agreement regarding child maintenance, can be registered by a court.
What is a proposed parenting plan? If you are not writing a parenting plan through mediation, you can have your attorney file a parenting plan with your case. This plan is a proposed parenting plan. If your co-parent agrees, then the plan becomes finalized alongside other proceedings. If your co-parent does not agree, they must file a responsive proposed plan. If neither party reaches an agreement, the parenting plan will be decided by the Court.
What is a court-ordered parenting plan? A court-ordered parenting plan is one drafted, finalized, and ordered by the Court as a ruling in a case. The parents may have influenced the plan by presenting their arguments to the judge, but they had no part in drafting or approving the parenting plan.
A court-ordered parenting plan is one created to draft the plan and submit it to the judge. The Court then oversees the process until the plan is finalized.
What happens if you violate a parenting plan? You run the risk of being held in contempt of court. You can also face custody and visitation-related consequences if the Court finds the violation severe and/or consistent. If you are found in contempt more than once in a three-year period, your judge may reassign custody. Violation of a parenting plan can also be used as evidence in future cases under the Family Law Act.
Can you change a parenting plan? Yes, though the process may not be easy. If both parents agree, then it is as simple as bringing the agreement before a mediator, arbitrator, or judge to have the changes confirmed. If both parties cannot agree, however, you will need to go to court. Going to court risks the judge making changes as a ruling with which neither parent is particularly happy. If you want to make a change to your parenting plan, it’s best to discuss what and why with us, first, to help ensure you get efficient results.
A Final Word on Parenting Plans
The process of developing a parenting plan will usually see a great deal of back and forth between the disputing parties, which is why it is so important to enlist a skilled attorney to take your concerns before the Court and ensure all issues are resolved before the final order is declared.
Ultimately, your child should be at the center of all decisions you make during the preparation of your parenting plan, just as you will be at the center of all decisions made by the Law Firm of Caryn S. Fennell during our time representing you. Call our law firm today at (770) 479-0248 for a free consultation.