In any case involving child custody in Georgia, the parents (jointly or separately) must submit a parenting plan. O.C.G.A. §19-9-1. In addition to several general statements about custody, see O.C.G.A. §19-9-1(b)(1)), the parenting plan must include specific details about who the children will be with every day of the year, including holidays, vacations, special occasions such as birthdays, how visitation exchange will take place, and allocation of decision making authority. O.C.G.A. §19-9-1(b)(2).
When working with your spouse to come up with a parenting plan, it is important to think long and hard about your children and their schedules (as well as the schedules of you and your spouse). There is no cookie-cutter parenting plan that will make sense for every family. Each family is unique and has different things to consider in determining what will work best post-divorce. For example, if you have high school aged children, it may work best if they just drive themselves to and from visitation. Obviously, elementary and middle school aged children will need to be driven. In addition, older children may have numerous extra curricular activities and their schedules may not lend themselves to weeknight visitation. Parents who live far from each other also may have a hard time working weeknight visitation into the schedule even if their children don’t do any extracurricular activities. It may help to look at “a week in the life” of your family in determining what will work best post-divorce. Living in two separate households can certainly make things more difficult, but doing your due diligence up front before being locked into a parenting plan can help.
Parents know their children better than any Judge. For this reason, it almost always works out better if the parents can work together to jointly submit a parenting plan to the court. Unless the Judge finds the parenting plan to be contrary to the best interests of the children, he/she will accept it and it will become part of the final divorce decree. If you cannot agree, the Judge will make the decision and you may be stuck with a parenting plan that does not make practical sense for your family. Even if you and your spouse are at extreme odds in your divorce and cannot seem to agree upon anything, try to mediate just the custody issue and see if you can jointly come up with a plan that will work for both of you, and your kids. If you can do so, your post-divorce life will likely be a little easier, at least as it relates to co-parenting.