In Georgia, any final decree involving child custody (including divorce and custody modifications) shall include a Parenting Plan that outlines the specific custody and visitation arrangements made by the parties. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-1. If the parties cannot agree on a Parenting Plan, each parent will prepare their own plan to submit to the Judge, who will then come up with a joint Parenting Plan which will bind both parties. The Parenting Plan must include details about when the child(ren) will physically be with each parent (including day to day, holidays, vacations, school breaks, etc.), transportation arrangements, and decision-making authority. Id. The Plan must also include specific language about co-parenting. The purpose of requiring the Parenting Plan is to ensure parents thoroughly think through the details of their custody and visitation arrangement so there is no ambiguity and each parent knows exactly when their time with the children will be.
While the statute is very detailed in what it requires, it is also very generalized so that it can be applied to every case. As we know, however, every child custody case is unique, so it will almost always be necessary to add additional things into the Parenting Plan to make sure it addresses all the needs of your particular situation. An example of this can be seen in the custody agreement between actress Jodie Sweetin and her ex-husband, Morty Coyle. Jodie Sweetin and ex’s custody agreement includes drug testing, by Jessica Sager, pagesix.com, September 9, 2016. Sweetin and Coyle, who share legal and physical custody of their six year old daughter, have specific drug testing clauses in their custody agreement as a result of Sweetin’s previous struggle with addiction. Specifically, the agreement provides that “each parent can request the other to submit to a hair follicle drug test with 12 hours’ notice” and that their daughter “shall only be driven by a sober driver.” This last requirement seems unnecessary to those who have never dealt with drug addiction but, given the history of this case, it likely gives peace of mind to Coyle.
When negotiating the terms of a Parenting Plan with your ex, be sure to bring all your concerns to the table. As mentioned above, each family situation is unique and only you and your ex know what issues may come up. Therefore, don’t rely solely on the lawyers to make sure every issue is included, as they will not know the details of your relationship like you do. If you think something is going to be an issue, put it in the plan so both parties are bound by it and, hopefully, you won’t have to continue worrying about it.