California Parenting Plan and Agreement Guidelines

A parenting plan outlines how parents will share the rights and responsibilities of raising their children.

You might use one to negotiate with the other parent, to present your requests to a judge or mediator, or to file for settlement.

Many uniform aspects of making a parenting plan are the same regardless of your state. Below are guidelines specific to California.

Keep in mind that each child in a family could require a different plan.

Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting time schedules.

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Information required in your plan

California parenting plans (also called custody and visitation agreements) must contain information about physical and legal custody.

Physical custody is where your child lives and who cares for your child. You should specify whether one parent will have sole physical custody or the parents will share joint physical custody. You can include a parenting schedule in written and visual form to show when the child will be with each parent.

Legal custody is the authority to make decisions for and about your child. Your plan must state whether one parent will have sole legal custody or the two parents will share joint legal custody. For joint legal custody, you should specify how the parents will share or divide decision making duties.

Suggested information to include

You aren't required to have information beyond physical and legal custody in your plan, but courts encourage parents to include as much further detail as possible.

To avoid later stress and confusion, try to think of all potential disagreements ahead of time, then stipulate in your plan exactly how they'll be handled.

You can use the Custody X Change parenting plan template to walk you through possible situations. Below you'll find advice from California attorneys on common parenting plan provisions:

Exchanges

It's a good idea to specify that the receiving parent will be responsible for picking up the kids. The parent who's already with the children can often be distracted or want more time, so custody exchanges are more likely to happen punctually when the receiving parent does the transporting. (This does not apply to parenting plans in which parents meet at neutral locations or use a third party to exchange their children.)

Response time

Plans should always state how long a parent must wait after contacting the other before he or she can act alone. For example: If two parents agreed to make decisions about extracurricular activities together, but one hasn't replied to an email about a new karate class, how long before the other parent can sign the kids up on his or her own?

Child care

Some plans require that the other parent be given the opportunity to care for the kids before a babysitter or caretaker is contacted. If you want to include such a provision in your plan, set a minimum amount of child care time required to trigger it. Many judges hesitate to approve plans that include this "right of first refusal" for child care lasting less than six hours.

Expenses

In California, parents with similar incomes usually split large expenses evenly ― medical bills, school tuition, day care, etc. Each parent covers smaller, daily costs when the child is in their care, and child support payments serve to even out these expenses. Whether you like this setup or want a different one, be sure to specify in your plan.

Health insurance

Will you have the child on one parent's health plan or on both parents' plans? Both arrangements are common in California, so decide which works for you and write it in your parenting plan.

Special circumstances

Your parenting plan should be unique to your family and reflect your specific needs. You can customize it to suit any situation.

Consider including specialized provisions in your plan if any of the following are true for your family:

Factors the court will consider

The judge will turn a plan into a court order if it ensures the health, safety, and welfare of your child. He or she will look at the following to decide if your plan is in the child's best interest:

  • Your child's age
  • Your child's health
  • Your child's relationship with each parent
  • Your child's preference (if he or she is mature enough)
  • Your child's ties to school, home, and community
  • Each parent's ability to care for the child
  • Any evidence or history of drug or alcohol abuse by a parent
  • Any history of abuse committed by a parent against the other parent or a past partner
  • Any evidence or history of a parent abusing a child
More guidance

For more guidance as you create your parenting plan, see these resources:

The easiest way to make a parenting plan

When you’re writing a parenting plan, it’s critical you use airtight language that leaves no room for interpretation. You must also be careful not to omit any information required by the court.

If you hire a lawyer or mediator, he or she will write up the plan and ensure it meets the court’s requirements.

If you’re writing your own plan, use technology to take the guesswork out of the equation. The Custody X Change app will walk you through each step of creating a comprehensive parenting plan.

The result will be a professional document that demonstrates your competence as a parent from the first glance.

The easiest and most reliable way to make a parenting plan is with Custody X Change.

Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting time schedules.

Make My California Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting time schedules.

Make My Plan