When a couple gets divorced, what happens to the kids? No parent is going to say they want anything but the best for their children, but sometimes the emotional weight of events, combined with changes that occur during a separation, make for a sometimes less than perfect situation for the smallest members of the family. One way to make sure the children do not become casualties in a divorce is to have a well thought out parenting plan in place immediately.
Local Assemblyman George Runner feels that such a plan is so important, he recently authorized a bill that would require a parenting plan to be filed with a judge during an imposed 90-day waiting period commencing at the time when an individual files papers for a divorce. He feels that currently there just aren’t any requirements that take the needs of the children into consideration. The bill (AB 913) allows divorcing couples the opportunity to create a parenting plan evaluating the impact the divorce will have on the children, potentially avoiding some of the negative effects that arise out of divorce. It creates a more mindful process, said Runner.
Just what exactly is a parenting plan? In the most general terms, a parenting plan is a written agreement between a divorcing couple which outlines how the well being of the children will be protected. Plans can be as broad or as specific as parents choose and, like individuals themselves, each one is unique. Although plans do vary from case to case, most still contain the same basic elements.
The first decision that needs to be made when writing a parenting plan is the custody issue. Will parents share legal and/or physical custody? Will one parent claim sole custody of the children? Many things need to factored into this most basic yet highly-important issue including the age of the children, the disposition of both the children and the adults involved and the situation under which the divorce occurred. Joint legal custody is usually preferable for the continued welfare of the children except in instance of physical or mental abuse.
Once custody is decided, there needs to be a set schedule where the children’s time is divided between the parents. The kids might switch households every week or, more commonly, live with Dad or Mom for the majority of the time and visit the other parent weekly or biweekly. Whichever the arrangement, it is best for young children to have consistency in their lives, so this schedule should be established and adhered to as soon as possible. Financial support for the children should be established. This encompasses not only how the children will be provided, but also who will be responsible for extra expenses such as medical and dental insurance and any special schooling a child may need.
Other things to consider when making a parenting plan are Holidays and Vacations as well as any other special days that come up. Couples must decide ahead of time which parent spends time with the children during these occasions. Holidays can be split or even and odd years can be assigned to each of the parents or any number of variations depending on the individual circumstance.
Parents can include anything else they see fit in their parenting plan. Religious training preferences, how communication about the children is to occur, drop off and pick up locations and even the types of discipline used in each household.
Plans will change as children grow and their needs take a different course. Parents who remarry or relocate will have different concerns as well. It’s best to look at the parenting plan as an evolving guideline that can help draw the boundaries that protect children.
The final step in preparing a parenting plan is to make it legal. It is best to consult with a family law attorney or mediator to help file the necessary papers. Family law is ever changing and a professional in the field can help.