A Parenting Plan is a legal form submitted to the court in any instances involving children within the family court system. Parenting plans are intended to regulate relationships between parents and children in terms of visitation, custody, and individualized parental responsibilities.
The Parenting Plan Requirement under Georgia Law
Under O.C.G.A. § 19-9-1, every domestic relations case in Georgia in which children are involved i.e. a divorce case, child custody, child visitation, modification of custody, modification of visitation, legitimation, or other custody matter requires the implementation a of a formal Parenting Plan before a case can be finalized and signed by the Judge.
The Parenting Plan is important in that it also determines the details for the custody of the children in a divorce or family law case. The Parenting Plan parameters should include:
- which parent is the primary custodian of the children
- which parent receives visitation
- how final decision making authority is established for: extracurricular activities, education, religious upbringing, non-emergency medial treatment, etc.
- the specific amount of visitation time
- how, where, and at what time visitations will occur
- how holiday visitation time is divided
- how out-of-state or international travel is restricted, handled, and coordinated with the children
- when and how the parents can communicate with the children when not in their custody; Examples: phone, text, email, video calling services (Skype, FaceTime, etc.)
- how visitation may change over time as the children enter school and grow older
- how access to school and medical records will be handed by parties
- in a few cases: whether supervised visitation will be necessary, and how it will be conducted
- in some cases, limitations to whom the children can be exposed to and when; Examples: new boyfriends and girlfriends of the parties, etc.
The above list is not exhaustive, there are other provisions the parties or the court may include as needed or agreed to by the parties. In general the parenting plan is intended to ensure the growth and development of the child(ren) and to ensure that a child is provided with parental involvement and influence in education, medical, extracurricular activities, travel, religious upbringing, and psychological decisions. See O.C.G.A. § 19-9-1 >>
A Parenting Plan essentially determines the rights and obligations of the two parents in relation to the child also known as joint legal custody.
A parenting plan is unique to each child custody situation and may be as detailed or basic as the parents or Judge determines is necessary. Additional areas that may be defined within a parenting plan my include guidelines for telephone conversations, guidelines for various types of video communications, who may also attend child custody exchanges, guidelines for a child’s exposure to a parents new romantic partner, guidelines/ restrictions if alcohol or prescription drugs are permitted in the presents of the child(ren), and guidelines for possible drug testing if necessary. The joint legal custody matters that may be outlined on a parenting plan are not limited to those listed on pre-printed forms / templates and can be altered to include any stipulation that ensures that a child is adequately cared for and that the stipulation acts in the best interest of the child. In most parenting plans involving joint legal custody an attorney will need to be retained to ensure that the parenting plan is fully inclusive and stipulates all aspects necessary to avoid any future modifications.
A Parenting Plan may be completely agreed upon by both parties such as in an uncontested divorce or family law case.
In uncontested situations the parties may file one parenting plan with the court and have it approved and finalized by the judge presiding in the case. In many instances this is more beneficial to the child(ren) as the parents are better able to agree and decide which parenting guidelines are the best fit for their child. This type of parenting plan is usually filed when both parties are capable of negotiations and are able to rationally cooperate or may be currently co-parenting.
In other instances; however, a unified parenting plan cannot be agreed upon by the parties and in such circumstances each party is responsible to filing their own parenting plan. If an acceptable parenting plan is not able to be consolidated by the parties prior to trial a Judge may either select the most reasonable parenting plan provided or may in fact develop his or her own parenting plan that will be signed with the final order following trial and a presentation of evidence. Typically it is a more positive situation if the parties can agree to a parenting plan prior to the judge’s implementation of a integrated plan – which both parties may be dissatisfied with. In general a parenting plan is a fixed arrangement of how parents will actively co-parent and it is easier for parents to decide on how this co-parenting will take place as opposed to a judge dictating how co-parenting will take place.
In a Georgia uncontested divorce or family law case requiring a Parenting Plan, both parents should acknowledge the following by notarized signature and initials:
- that a close and continuing parent-child relationship and continuity in the child(ren)’s life is in the child(ren)’s best interest.
- that the child(ren)’s needs will change and grow as the child(ren) matures; that the parties will have made a good faith effort to take these changing needs into account so that the need for future modifications to the Parenting Plan are minimized.
- that the parent with physical custody will make the day-to-day decisions and emergency decisions while the child is residing with such parent.
- that the parties knowingly and voluntarily agree on the terms of this Parenting Plan and that the information provided for the Parenting Plan is true and correct.
Preparing a Parenting Plan without the assistance of an experienced attorney can be daunting, and mistakes are common. If you are facing divorce and have questions about the required parenting plan, call us at 770-609-1247 to speak with one of our experienced divorce and family law attorneys.