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A parenting plan is a document that defines all child custody matters. Specifically, it is filed with the court and explains the parties’ agreement (or the court’s order) regarding visitation, legal decision making, transportation and many other topics related to the parties’ children. Because it is what guides the parties on all post-divorce related matters related to their children, we consider it to be the most important child custody document in Georgia. Like most areas of Georgia law related to divorce, if the parties cannot agree, the judge will make the ultimate decision considering proposals submitted by each parent and the best interests of the child. O.C.G.A. §19-9-1.
The Importance of Thinking Through Parenting Plans
Example Parenting Plans
Parenting Plan Requirements
Overview of Parenting Plan Requirements
Visitation between your children and the non-custodial parent is meant to foster the bond that your children have with both parents, which in turn serves the best interests of your children. However, if you believe that your spouse may engage in activities that may negatively impact your child or children during visitation, there are certain clauses or language that you may insert in your child custody agreement that may address these concerns and ensure that your children are not exposed to potentially harmful activities.
Most importantly, a parenting plan must address where a child will reside at all given times including not only the normal visitation schedule but also special provisions for summers and holidays. In addition to time, visitation restrictions can be included in the parenting plan that are in the best interest of the child ro children involved.
Legal Decision Making
A parenting plan is not complete without a final decision maker for each major legal decision making catagory: health care, education, extracurricular activities, and religion. Although the vast majority of cases have joint legal decision making, a final decision must be made when the parties disagree and documented in the parenting plan.
Another provision that parents may choose to insert in their custody agreements is a provision that forbids the use of alcohol or illegal drugs in the presence of the children. If a parent and the court believes that such a clause would benefit the best interests of the child involved, such a clause will be included in the parties’ parenting plan. Such a clause could possibly read as follows:
“Neither parent shall consume excessive amounts of alcohol in the presence of the children, nor shall use of illegal drugs be allowed or tolerated in any way.”
One restriction that might be worth considering is a restriction on overnight guests your co-parent may entertain while in physical custody of your children. These provisions often read as follows:
“Neither parent will have an overnight guest of the opposite sex to whom that parent is not related by blood or marriage while the children are present.”
Parents may choose to insert such provisions to ensure that their children are not exposed to their co-parents romantic partners too early or too often. These provisions also avoid the concern that children will be exposed to sexual or inappropriate activity during parenting time.
When parents are going through a divorce or finalized a divorce, one of the hardest adjustments is often learning how to work together to co-parent the children after child custody is determined. Seeing one another during a visitation exchange can become complicated and difficult for both or one of the parties. It may be difficult if one or both parents have animosity toward the other, or it may be awkward if a parent is remarried and the new spouse is there. If switching the children at a parent’s house results in an uncomfortable situation, consider switching the location or possibly having another person present during the exchange. (Make sure this person will not exacerbate the situation!) Some parents meet at a designated store, shopping center, or even police station. This takes away the opportunity for the parents to be completely alone together and can lessen the awkwardness for both the parents and the children.
Day to Day and Emergency Situations
Georgia law also requires that every parenting plan includes "[a] recognition that a parent with physical custody will make day-to-day decisions and emergency decisions while the child is residing with such parent". O.C.G.A. §19-9-1(b)(1)(C). Notably, this includes emergency medical decisions for a child even when that parent is not the final decision maker for medical decisions.
A parenting plan must include language stating: "[t]hat both parents will have access to all of the child's records and information, including, but not limited to, education, health, extracurricular activities, and religious communications." O.C.G.A. §19-9-1(b)(1)(D)