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A custody and visitation agreement – often called a parenting plan – is a key part of any child custody arrangement. It is a set of stipulations agreed upon by both parents that determine how child custody will be arranged, how visitation will be scheduled, and how decisions about the health, education, and general well-being of the children should be made. These agreements are made between parents, often with attorney or mediator assistance, and when they are fully accepted by both parties, they are signed and sent to the judge to be filed as a court order.

It is imperative that your children be your first and only priority when making a parenting plan. During the stressful and emotional times of a divorce, it is tempting to base your decisions around your ex, trying to make them upset or take things away from them, but this kind of thinking is detrimental and dangerous to your children’s well-being. Whatever emotional distress you may be feeling during your divorce, your kids are feeling more, and watching their parents bicker only makes things worse for them. You have to put them first, even if that means making nice with possibly your least favorite person in the world right now.

Make “my kids come first” your mantra. When making decisions about your parenting plan, your kids are everything. You should make certain that your plan takes into account your children’s basic needs, such as that they are eating or sleeping well, that they have adequate medical care and coverage, that their education is taken care of, and that they have happy, loving homes – with either parent. Some other things you should consider when making a parenting plan:

  • Tailor your plan to your children, do not try to force your children to adjust to what’s convenient for you.
  • Make sure that your children have a visitation routine that they can adjust to – a stable routine will help them deal with the huge changes that come with a divorce, and it will help ensure that their relationship with each parent remains healthy.
  • Make sure that your parenting plan is detailed, but not convoluted – try to account for as many scenarios as you can in your plan, and address each with a simple set of rules that both parents understand and agree to.
  • Make sure that both parents have access to information about the children, including school and medical records, and make sure that you keep informed about any important events or big changes in your children’s lives.
  • Stay in contact with your ex regarding your children – communication is key. You don’t need to be friends, but you should be able to contact one another and have civil discussions about your children, and you should inform one another about everything you can about your children’s lives.
  • Learn to resolve disputes with your ex amicably and with the children’s best interests in mind. Remember your mantra – “my kids come first.” Be rational, calm, and respectful when dealing with your ex, and make sure you explain your point of view clearly. Never, ever drag your kids into an argument with your ex, and don’t badmouth your ex if your children might hear you.
  • Make sure you have clearly defined exactly who has physical custody (i.e. where your children will be staying, and when) and who has legal custody (i.e. who can make decisions about your children’s lives and well being) – including what decisions each parent is allowed to make without the other’s consent, and which ones require both parents’ input.

There are several other factors to consider, and a number of steps to the process of filing a parenting plan. For more detailed information (and access to some of the required forms) click here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/15872.htm