What is a parenting plan?
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A parenting plan in Georgia is a comprehensive document that’s required in every divorce with minor children. It governs legal custody and physical custody, and it sets forth which parent has the right to make decisions regarding the children and where and when the children spend their time with each parent. It can also govern other issues such as transportation, access to records, attendance at school events, passports, etc. Because it covers so much information and because it is so detailed to the needs and interests of your children, it’s important to discuss this with an attorney prior to entering into a parenting plan in a divorce.
What Is A Parenting Plan?
In any proceeding where custody of a minor child is an issue, the state of Georgia requires a parenting plan to be submitted to the court. However, there is often quite a lot of confusion about what a parenting plan has to contain. You and your soon-to-be ex-spouse need to be able to work out certain truths that will govern custody and parenting time – if you cannot agree, you will each submit your own plans, and the court will choose between theirs and yours, meaning you may be stuck with an arrangement you find insupportable.
What Does It Need To Contain?
Generally, a parenting plan is a formal document containing the specific details governing the way a couple’s minor children will be parented after divorce. Georgia requires one from every divorcing couple to ensure that the child’s best interests are being protected – it is state public policy to place the best interests of the child or children before basically anything else. Agreement between the spouses is considered optimal, if it can be reached, but if it cannot, the court has the authority to step in – usually, a parenting plan will be requested from both parties, and the court will choose one.
At bare minimum, a parenting plan must contain several specific criteria. Some include:
- Granting decision-making authority to one or both parents, over everything from school and medical decisions to religion and extracurricular activities;
- Dividing where the children will spend their time (parenting time and visitation);
- Deciding how school breaks, holidays, and other special occasions will be spent – that is, with which parent, where, and what transportation will be used to get the children from one place to the other;
- Whether or not any supervision or other unusual issues would occur during visitation; and
- Any other issues that might affect parenting time or visitation.
Changes Can Be Made
Even if you and your spouse cannot agree on a parenting plan, this does not mean that any negative outcome is permanent. Georgia allows modification of custody arrangements, though it can only happen once every two years unless it can be shown that there has been a “material” shift in circumstances for the parent filing the petition. Most of the time, ‘material’ changes affect a parent’s ability to pay bills and otherwise maintain a lifestyle for the child or children that is similar to what they are used to.
Sometimes, changes to your plan can even happen before its implementation. For instance, Georgia law allows a child who is between the ages of 14-18 to choose which parent they wish to live with, and their choice is generally dispositive unless it is determined to not be in their best interests to allow that arrangement (for example, if the child chooses to live with a parent who has a history of domestic violence). It is important to keep this possibility in mind, as if your child picks a choice that is contrary to your parenting plan, it can mean that you may have to metaphorically rip it up and start over again.
Seek Knowledgeable Legal Help In Your Case
If you are lucky enough to be able to create a parenting plan with your spouse, you may be able to sidestep multiple headaches about child custody and parenting time. If you are not, you should still be able to reach a compromise, and enlisting a good attorney can help you reach that goal. The Atlanta child custody attorneys at Buckhead Family Law are happy to sit down with you and try to help answer any questions you may have about these matters. Call us today at 404-600-1403 to make an appointment.