California Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in California and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for CA courts.
You can write up your own parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
When drafting a parenting plan in California, you should be aware of the laws mandated by the state, contained in the California Family Code, Division 8. The law provides specific information regarding the manner in which child custody cases are decided.
The law states the best interests of the child are a priority in California, and will be considered above all other factors when the court makes custody decisions.
By becoming familiar with the laws in the California Family Code, you will have better insight as to what the courts expect and what you can expect from them.
Complying with the law while writing a parenting plan in your child's best interests is a great way to ensure your plan is accepted by the court.
The state defines some of the custody terms you'll use in your agreement in Part 1, Chapter 1 of Division 8 of the California Code:
- Sole legal custody means that only one parent has the right and responsibility to make decisions for the child relating to the child's health, education, and welfare.
- Sole physical custody means that the child resides with and is under the supervision of one parent and may have visitation with the other parent.
- Joint legal custody means that both parents share the right and responsibility to make the major decisions for their child (such as the ones affecting their child's health, education, and welfare).
- Joint physical custody means each parent has significant periods of physical custody and the physical custody is shared so that the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents. It does not necessarily mean the parents must share the child's time equally.
- Joint custody refers to both parents having joint physical custody and joint legal custody.
These definitions are useful to know as you decide what type of agreement to make.
Do you both want to share the responsibility to make decisions for your child? Do you want each of you to have significant contact with your child? If so, you should have a joint custody agreement.
If you want your child to live with one parent and to give that parent full responsibility for decisions, then you should have a sole custody agreement.
It is possible for parents to share joint legal custody while one parent has sole physical custody. It all depends on what you agree upon and what the court decides.
California recognizes that children benefit from having both parents play active roles in their lives, and the state presumes that joint custody arrangements serve the best interest of the child (CA Fam Section 3080).
As joint custody is the preferred custodial arrangement, the court usually rules in agreement with parties who mutually request joint custody.
If one parent requests joint custody but the other requests sole custody, the court may rule against the wishes of one parent and grant joint custody anyway, as long as it is deemed proper by the court (CA Fam Section 3081).
If appropriate, the court may also be compelled to order sole physical custody to one parent. The other parent may be granted reasonable visitation rights.
Regardless of the custody arrangement decided upon by the court, you will be encouraged to submit a parenting plan that will encompass the needs and best interest of your child.
California Code, Division 8, Section 3011, provides some of the factors the court depends on when making an order regarding custody and determining the best interest of the child, including, but not limited to:
- The health, safety and welfare of the child.
- Any history of substantiated abuse committed by a parent to the other parent, past spouses/partners, and the substantiated abuse of any child that is related to the parent or that the abusive parent has been a caretaker of.
- The nature of the relationships and amount of contact the child has had with each parent.
- Any evidence or history of drug or alcohol abuse.
The State of California also provides for children old enough (usually age 14) to state a parental preference to do so (CA Fam Section 3042).
Additionally, the State of California recognizes that both parents are entitled to rights to the child and does not discriminate on the basis of gender (CA Fam Section 3010a).
The custody agreement made in the parenting plan will be in place for a long time so it is important to contemplate the needs of your child while including the following:
- A child visitation schedule that includes holiday and vacation schedules
- Provisions regarding the exchange of the child between parents that includes the time, locations, and method of exchanges
- An outline of the expected roles and responsibilities of each parent
- Stipulations pertaining to the child's travel with the other parent, such as whether or not removing the child from the state or country is permitted
- What to do if a parent moves, (or stipulations that prohibit the parent from moving), too far away without good and proper cause
- A statement detailing who will attend extra-curricular activities and who will pay for them
- A first right of refusal clause so that the other parent will be the first in line to take care of the child if unexpected childcare is needed
- An agreement on how to approach any future modifications to the parenting plan
- Plans for future dispute resolutions, as needed
As long as the parenting plan is detailed, fair, and written in the best interest of the child, the Superior Courts in the State of California should rule it a court order.
While it may seem difficult to work with the other parent when drafting a parenting plan, it is worthwhile and truly in the best interest of your child.
A judge, seeing hundreds of family law cases a month, is not familiar with your individual family dynamic and the specific needs of your child. As parents, you are the most knowledgeable and best suited people to make the custody agreement for your child.
This is why California courts may require you to submit a parenting plan (CA Section 3040a1).
If you cannot agree, Superior Courts in the State of California shall provide a mediator so you can try to develop a parenting plan together (CA Fam Section 3160).
If the parents attend mediation and are unable to agree, the suggestion of the mediator is likely to be accepted by the court. The court may also appoint an independent counselor to meet with each of you, evaluate the situation, and make a recommendation to the court.
It is important to be prepared with a pre-drafted parenting plan when you attend mediation so that important factors are not forgotten and left out of the plan. This will also give the mediator something to work off of beside the old "standard" visitation schedules and parenting plans.
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