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Understanding parenting plans in California divorces

Under California law, divorcing parents have the option to jointly prepare a parenting plan for their minor children. Parenting plans are not mandatory, but the process of reviewing and thinking about the information that must be included in such a plan can help one or both spouses move through what is usually the most emotionally draining issue in any divorce.

Parenting plans are usually written by the two parents instead of by the court. In general, a parenting plan embodies the agreement between the two parents about how they will divide the responsibilities of taking care of their children. Such plans usually include issues of legal custody, such as how the parents will make decisions about the child's health, education and welfare. The parents can resolve this issue in any way they like so long as the court believes that it serves the best interests of the child. A plan usually resolves the issue of where the children will live, including whether the children will live exclusively with one parent or will they spend a specified period with one parent and then with the other. Some plans also address the issue of child support and child support modification.

Most of the district courts in California have developed their own forms for assisting parents in working out a joint parenting plan. These forms, such as the one adopted by courts in Marin County, ask the parents to answer such questions as who will care for the children while the parents are at work, what will be their summer schedule, and how will the children spend their holidays. A plan may also address questions such as how the parents will resolve disputes and communicate with the children and with each other.

Even if the parents are unable to reach agreement on several points, the exercise of working through the forms can help a parent develop his or her ideas about how the parenting responsibilities should be allocated. While the assistance of a lawyer is not explicitly required, a knowledgeable family lawyer can provide helpful advice on resolving more difficult questions, such as responsibility for health care and educational issues.

Source: Judicial Council of California, "Child Custody Information Sheet - Child Custody Mediation," accessed on April 16, 2017

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