Divorce is one of the toughest times in a parent’s life. You’re not only worried about doing what’s best for your kids, but you get a whole new set of responsibilities including making tough decisions on how much time your children should spend with you and their other parent.
It’s completely natural for parents to struggle with child custody schedules and parenting plans. On one hand, you want what’s best for your kids, on the other, you need what’s best for you, as well. It’s tough to make rational decisions when you’re battling your own emotions, too, which means figuring out child custody and visitation is an uphill trek.
Consistent, peaceful and minimal-conflict contact with your ex-spouse is essential if you want to successfully co-parent. The best way to get to that point is to create a detailed parenting plan that outlines how you’ll share your parenting obligations.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan, often called a custody and visitation agreement, is a written agreement between two parents that includes:
- A schedule that denotes when the children will be with each parent
- Information on how parents will make decisions about their children
A parenting plan can include other information, as well, and it can be as detailed (or as open to interpretation) as necessary. Your attorney may suggest that you create a specific, detailed parenting plan so there’s no room for confusion, and so that you and your ex can reduce conflict.
When you’re formulating a parenting plan, you should consider your kids’:
- Basic needs
- Experiences and abilities
- Relationship with their other parent
Your attorney will most likely advise you to cooperate with your ex to create a parenting plan. That’s because when you both participate in creating the plan, you’re both more likely to feel reasonably satisfied with the outcome. You can do this on your own or with the help of a divorce mediator. However, there are some cases in which it’s impossible for two people to see eye-to-eye (or even to negotiate to a reasonably satisfying outcome). In cases like those, your attorney may suggest that you ask the court to decide.
What Does “the Best Interest of the Child” Mean in California Family Code?
When the judge in your case looks at your child custody schedule, or when he or she must make a decision for you, the best interest of the child will always take precedence over everything. Under the California Family Code, judges are required to consider what’s best for the kids involved when they’re making a decision. This legal standard focuses on several factors, including the child’s health, safety and well-being. If you submit a parenting plan that doesn’t meet your child’s best interests, the court can reject it and tell you to try again.
Do Courts Favor the Mother in Child Custody?
California law presumes that both parents have equal rights to time with children. The courts realize that parents benefit from frequent and continuing contact with both parents, as long as the children are safe in each parent’s care. The courts do not favor mothers over fathers (or vice-versa) because the law is focused on doing what’s best for the child & nothing more.
Types of Custody: Legal and Physical
There are two types of custody in California: legal and physical. Parents can share either type or both types of custody (which is called joint custody), or either or both can be awarded to only one parent (which is called sole custody).
The term legal custody refers to a parent’s rights and responsibilities when it comes to making major decisions for a child. Those decisions can involve things like:
- Routine medical care
- Psychological care
- Extracurricular activities
- Religious upbringing
When parents share joint legal custody, they are both responsible for making these decisions. (Emergency medical care is another matter & the parent who has the child during an emergency can make medical decisions for the child.)
If only one parent has legal custody, he or she is the only one with the right to make these decisions. However, the other parent can ask for input.
The term physical custody refers to the time a child spends with each parent. The amount of time can be flexible, and it can range between a moderate period of time for one parent (such as every other weekend) and a complete half-and-half split with time divided equally between both parents’ homes.
Common Child Custody Schedules
Only you know what will work best for your family, but many families operate on fairly similar child custody schedules. You are free to come up with a child custody schedule with your ex and as long as the judge in your case believes that your solution is in your children’s best interests, he or she is likely to sign off on it. Some of the most common child custody schedules include:
- Every weekend visitation
- Week on, week off visitation
- 2-2-3 visitation
Here’s a closer look at the most common visitation schedules that you can use to create your own, more customized parenting plan.
Every Weekend Visitation Schedules
Simple and consistent, a visitation schedule that allows one parent to have primary physical custody of a child during the week and the other to have the child on the weekends may be the right solution for your family. This type of schedule does promote stability and frequent contact with both parents. However, some families feel that it’s not fair for one parent to be the one who has to make the children do homework and chores throughout the week while the other parent enjoys more relaxed time with the children on weekends.
Week On, Week Off Parenting Plans
Week on, week off child custody schedules are simple and consistent. One parent has the children one week, and they switch the following week. While this type of schedule can make transitioning between each parent’s home easier, some children don’t want to go an entire week without seeing their other parent. To combat this, many families include one day of visitation for the parent who doesn’t have the children. Sometimes week on, week off parenting plans are better suited to older children and teens, but that depends on your children’s maturity levels.
2-2-3 Visitation Schedules
Common and practical for parents who have 50-50 joint physical custody, a 2-2-3 visitation schedule allows one parent to have the children for the first two days of the week; the other parent gets the children for the next two days, and then they switch for the remaining three days. This way, both parents end up with an equal amount of time (neither parent has the children for more than five days in a week, nor fewer than two days in a week). For young children, having frequent contact with each parent is beneficial, and this type of schedule allows for alternating weekends between the parents, which means they can take turns between homework and relaxing weekend time together. However, this type of schedule requires more back-and-forth during the week for parents, and that can be challenging. It can also disrupt children’s routines, particularly if parents have different rules at home or different expectations regarding homework, bedtimes and extracurricular activities.
What is a Step-Up Parenting Plan?
Step-up parenting plans are very common, particularly in cases that involve a child who’s not very used to one of his or her parents. Judges often order these types of parenting plans when one parent has to meet specific guidelines before getting more visitation with the child, or when the child has simply not spent much time with the other parent. A step-up parenting plan can leave room for an increase in visitation as a child gets older and becomes more familiar with living in two separate homes, as well.
Although California’s child custody laws are designed to allow children frequent and continuing contact with both parents, the state’s primary duty is to the children’s safety and stability when increasing custody and visitation.
What is the Best Parenting Plan or Child Custody Schedule for My Family?
You and your children’s other parent want what’s best for your family, but it can be difficult to see eye-to-eye, particularly if you’re going through a divorce or a contentious split-up. In order to work out an agreement with your ex, you both need to agree to put your kids’ needs first. You also need to commit to being open to different options, because ultimately, you’re doing this for your childrens’ benefit.
Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all child custody schedule for families. All kids are unique and have varying needs, and typically, the custody plan you settle on will hinge on your children’s ages, maturity levels and backgrounds.
You can reach out to a counselor, mediator or experienced family law attorney for help drafting a detailed parenting plan that helps minimize conflict and serves your children’s best interests.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About a Child Custody Schedule?
If you need to talk to a child custody attorney in Beverly Hills, we may be able to help you. Our team understands the complex, sensitive nature of child custody litigation, and it’s our mission to help you do what’s best for your children. We’ll aggressively fight for you and your children, working tirelessly to help you get the best possible outcome in your child custody case.
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