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How important is your Parenting Plan?

Will your Parenting Plan last forever . . . or at least until your child turns 18? I sure hope so!

You may be wondering what a Parenting Plan is, whether it will apply to you, or if you really need it. Well yes, if you have a child with someone to whom you are not presently in a romantic relationship, you absolutely need it.

O.C.G.A. 19-9-1(a) provides, “except when a parent seeks emergency relief for family violence pursuant to Code Section 13-13-3 or 19-13-4, in ALL cases in which the custody of any child is at issue between the parents, each parent shall prepare a parenting plan or the parties may jointly submit a parenting plan . . . the final decree in any legal action involving the custody of a child, including modification actions, SHALL incorporate a permanent parenting plan.”

So, what is it? A parenting plan is a document outlining how parties will work together to coparent. This document is designed to govern the way you parent for years to come. It will address how you will cooperate in ensuring the health, safety, and welfare of your child. This plan is also designed to be permanent, to cover the years to come. That could be one year or eighteen years .  And because of that, you want to be specific. Think long term. Think long and hard. Cover as many bases as possible.

In your proposed Parenting Plan, you have the ability to set the terms and you should most certainly do that. Prior to entering mediation, or any settlement discussion for that matter, ask for a sample, discuss the plan with your attorney, know what to expect, come up with a rough draft, see and know the categories you will be required to address. All of this will help you avoid being caught off guard, surprised, or making last minute decisions. Again, be specific. Avoid ambiguous language. Ambiguous language can haunt you for years to come. Don’t leave room for interpretation. (Your attorney can help a lot here.) You have the ability of being as specific as you’d like so state the exact time of pick up, state where that exchange will take place, include a notice clause for tardiness, and be specific of the ramifications when not met.

Your attorney should have samples that will guide you. Ask to see a blank one. Generally, a parenting plan will cover custody, major decision making, parenting time/visitation schedules, holiday visitation schedules, transportation for the child, communication between the noncustodial parent and child, rights of the parent, what happens when a disagreement arises, and much more. Do yourself a favor and be familiar with it.

More and more we are seeing new clients seeking a modification, often complaining about how the visitation schedule does not work, it never has, and the parties continue to disagree on its terms. We review the parenting plan, and yes, it is subject to several interpretations because the language is ambiguous. Your interpretation could be correct, but, the opposing party may not be entirely wrong. Avoid this scenario whenever possible.  While we weren’t with you at the time of the agreement, we can’t assure you on what you actually agreed on, but fear not, we can advise you on how to modify it.

Yes, the good thing is, Georgia law allows modification of custody and visitation . . . under certain circumstances. A parent can ask the court to modify visitation or parenting time once in a two-year period following the entry of a judgment in a case without having to show a change in circumstances. This is not to be confused with custody, which is entirely separate.

Do yourself another favor, work with a family lawyer. Someone who sees parenting plans all day long and can walk you through what is best for you. These plans don’t have to be tied to a general template and as every family situation is different, they shouldn’t be. Allow us to give you options, suggestions, and guidance how to include what is most important for you and your children.

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