Developing parenting plans, also know as child visitation orders, is an art and a science. You must create an order that is tailored to the complexities of your life as well as be technically enforceable by a judge.
Here are 5 key things you must consider in developing any parenting order:
1. Parenting is for life: Long after the child turns 18, you and your ex will be involved in the child’s life. What you do now and how you act at this stage will deeply influence how your child will view both parents and will set a tone for how that child will approach parenting if he or she elects to have children. You and your ex serve as ambassadors of your children. Every opportunity that presents itself (even parenting conflict!) is an opportunity to do the right thing on working together as parents. No one said parenting is easy in intact relationships, let alone in relationships where the parents are no longer together.
2. Everything starts with a clean, easy to interpret court order: Each parenting order should be custom designed to fit the needs of each family. Before going to court, sit down and chart out a typical year of events, school activities, summer vacation, year end holidays to be certain you are not overlooking important blocks of time. If your child has special needs concerning education, sports activities etc. these events should also be included and carefully addressed in the court order. Who picks up the child from dance class and which weekdays (if any) are shared are typical examples of events that should be spelled out in a well crafted order.
3. Always try conflict resolution before returning to court: Inevitably, conflicts will arise concerning parenting issues, timeshare or other events affecting a child’s life. A parent prepared to address these hot button issues has a better chance of working through conflict than a parent who just wishes conflict will never happen. You might consider building into your court order a provision that requires both parents to attend a specific number of co-parenting counseling meetings with a therapist trained in this field before filing a motion to return to court.The money spent on a good counselor is a wise investment in resolving the conflict rather than spending emotional and financial resources on a court battle.
4. Document problems: if co-parenting counseling doesn’t work and the problems won’t resolve, document what the problems are by keeping a clean written record of your communication with the other parent about the problem. Texting is a difficult resource to print out and use as court exhibits but it can be done. The best method of keeping a record would be to regularly use email for non emergency parenting discussions. Look into using parenting schedule software programs designed to track parenting time, children’s school performance and other relevant parenting information. These programs are useful comprehensive tools to track information and keep a ledger of communication between the parents. A printed copy of this information is useful as an exhibit attached to any motion to return to court.
5. Return to court when all else fails: waiting for the problem to resolve itself or vanish is pointless. Delay can make the parenting situation worse and can work against you if a parenting pattern that’s unsatisfactory to you is considered appropriate by the judge because so much time has passed before returning to court. Keep in mind that preparing the appropriate request to return to court is not simply an “add water and stir” or “check the box” event. Understanding California law and how it specifically applies to your situation is critical to achieving success in court. Needless to say, enlisting the services of an experienced family law attorney as your guide and advocate maximizes the chances of success before the judge.