All California couples with minor children who are ending their marriages must prepare a joint parenting plan, sometimes called a “custody and visitation agreement.” Some divorcing spouses use child custody and visitation issues as weapons to bludgeon the other spouse into making concessions on other issues, such as property division. Most couples, however, want the best for their children after the divorce becomes effective, and they are usually willing to invest the time and emotion that is required to forge a beneficial parenting plan.

The parenting plan, at the very least, must address a time-sharing schedule that will specify when and for how long each parent may visit or have custody of the children. The plan must also address making decisions for the child’s health, education and welfare. The plan must also address physical custody, that is, the times when each parent will have custody of the child and responsibility for the child’s welfare. A plan must also address “legal custody,” that is, which parent has the power to make decisions about schools, daycare, medical and dental care and religion.

The plan should be drafted to reflect the best interests and basic needs of the children. Among other topics, the plan should reflect the parents’ decisions about providing love, protection and guidance, a healthy diet, proper medical care and sufficient rest. Parents should consider the age, personality and abilities of each child. The plan should be adjusted to reflect each child’s unique personality, wishes and interests. A plan should be clear and flexible. Modification should also be easy and should not require a visit with the judge every time a parent wants a minor change.

California courts generally expect divorcing parents to prepare their parenting plan without involving lawyers. Nevertheless, the advice of an experienced family law attorney may assist in resolving difficult or complex issues relating to visitation.