Parents who separate should have a custody and visitation or parenting plan for deciding how they will
share parenting responsibilities. A custody and visitation plan must be in writing and signed by both
parties and a judge to be enforceable.

Developing a Plan

While it is difficult to make generalizations about the suitability of various parenting plans many experts
agree that during the first years of life, it is important for young children to develop an attachment to a
primary caretaker and recommend frequent but non-overnight visitation with the non-custodial parent
for short periods of time. As the children grow older and are better able to develop multiple attachments
longer periods of continuous overnight visitation is encouraged.

What is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan, also called a custody and visitation agreement,’ is the parents’ written agreement

  • Time: a schedule for when the children will be with each parent
  • Decision-making: how the parents will make decisions about the health, education and welfare of
    the child.

With a written plan, the parents and your children will know what to expect and will have fewer conflicts
in your shared parenting time.

Your parenting plan becomes a court order after it is signed by both parents, signed by the judge, and
filed with the court.

Factors to consider when creating a parenting plan

  • The age, maturity level and
  • temperament of each child.
  • Any special needs of the child.
  • Each child's relationship with siblings
  • and parents.
  • The distance between the two
  • households.
  • The flexibility of both parents' work
  • schedules.
  • Child care arrangements.
  • Transportation needs.
  • The ability of the parents to communicate
  • and cooperate.

Consider the practical aspects of any plan

A first step in developing a plan is charting out the schedules of the children and both parents. This will
help you make realistic choices based upon practical considerations. Take a calendar and chart out in
a colored pen the activities of each of your children (e.g. when they leave and return from school/day
care each day, when they go to different activities such as music lessons, when they have vacations
etc.) Next, take a different colored pen and chart your activities and commitments. Include when you go
to and return from work, go to meetings, go out with friends etc. With another colored pen do the same
for the other parent. You should then compare both parents’ plans to see if there is any common

Family Wizard is a nice site that assists families and children in the middle of a divorce. It has many
features that enable joint scheduling, trading time, monitoring expense. Many judges are now ordering
use of the web site in high conflict divorces.

The Legal Aspects of a Plan

Any parenting plan will have to make provision for who gets "legal" custody and who gets "physical"
custody of the children. These are the terms that are used in agreements.

"Legal" custody means which parent gets to make important decisions about the children's education,
religious upbringing, medical treatment and other legal decisions. If one parent gets to make these
decisions they have "sole legal custody." If both parents get to make those decisions together, they
have "joint legal custody."  It is rare for one parent to be granted sole legal custody unless there are
issues of domestic violence and substance abuse or there is a history of the parents being unable to
communicate. In deciding on issues relating to legal custody, form
"Joint Legal Custody Attachment" FL-
341 (E) which has been approved by the Judicial Council of California is helpful.

Physical" custody means who the children live with on a daily basis. A parent has "sole" physical
custody if the primary residence of the child is with that parent. The non-custodial parent then has
visitation rights. The parents have "joint" physical custody if the children live with each parent for
significant periods of time during the week.

A custody and visitation plan should be consistent and detailed. It should spell out who gets the children
when and where in enough detail so that it is easy to understand and enforce. Important questions are
who has the children in the week and on the weekends?  Who transports the children for exchanges
and to activities? Who gets the children on holidays and vacations?  In California, the Judicial Counsel
has developed forms to be used when requesting custody and visitation. The forms
"Child Custody and
Visitation Attachment FL-311 and "Children's Holiday Schedule Attachment” can be found at www. and are helpful in developing plans.

Factors to consider about Joint Custody

For joint custody to be successful, parents must:
  • Be consistent between homes
  • Cooperate
  • Avoid conflict in front of the children
  • Share in parenting tasks
  • Cooperate with the transfer of the children's possessions between homes.

If parents are not cooperative, a joint custody plan may not be an optimal choice.

Importance of parents creating a plan together

  • Every family is unique. Parents are encouraged, whenever possible, to work together to develop
    a plan that they both agree will meet the best interests of their children. To help parents in this
    important task, the Superior Court offers Mediation Services, the Parents And Children Together
    (PACT) class and a series of brochures that highlights the needs of children from birth to

  • Parents who make their own decisions about parent/child time-sharing schedules report greater
    satisfaction and commitment to the arrangements.

Sample physical custody plans
Sample legal custody plans

Model Parenting Plans

Additional articles on Child Custody:

Contact a Divorce Lawyer Los Angeles at Law Offices of Warren R. Shiell to discuss your
custody issues.
Please call to make an appointment at 310.247.9913.


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