In the state of Georgia, a parenting plan is a crucial component of every child custody case. Also known as a custody agreement, this plan outlines how parents will collaborate in raising their children. Whether parents are able to reach a settlement or not, it is essential to have a well-crafted parenting plan to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of the children involved.
Importance of a Parenting Plan
A parenting plan serves as a roadmap for parents to navigate co-parenting responsibilities effectively. It is a document that outlines various aspects of child custody and acts as a guide for both parents and the court. In case the parents reach a settlement, they draft the plan collaboratively. The judge then reviews and approves the plan, making it a final order. However, if an agreement cannot be reached, each parent submits their proposed plan before the first hearing. If the case proceeds to trial, the judge will order the plan that best suits the children or a combination of the two plans.
Tailoring the Plan to Suit Your Needs
Although there are general guidelines for creating a parenting plan, it’s important to remember that each child is unique and may require a different approach. While many aspects of creating a parenting plan are consistent across all states, the following guidelines provide specific information for Georgia.
Selecting the Right Template
When parents come to a mutual agreement, they have the option to put their parenting plan in a personalized format. Custody X Change offers a customizable template that can meet their specific needs. Alternatively, parents can use Georgia’s uncontested parenting plan template. Combining both approaches is also possible.
In situations where parents fail to agree, each parent should utilize Georgia’s contested parenting plan template. This format will be familiar to the judge. The Custody X Change app can be used to incorporate over 140 popular provisions into their proposed plans.
Key Elements to Include in Your Plan
Your parenting plan must address physical custody, legal custody, and child support. Additionally, it should cover other important topics, as outlined below.
Physical custody determines where the children live and who acts as their primary caretaker. There are several options available:
- Primary physical custody: One parent assumes the majority of parenting time (this is the most common choice).
- Joint physical custody: Parents divide the time with the children more equally.
- Sole physical custody: One parent has all or nearly all parenting time (to obtain this against the other parent’s wishes, it must be proven that granting them more time would negatively impact the children).
It is essential to include a written visitation schedule in your plan. While optional, adding a visual parenting calendar can be helpful. Each child may have a different schedule based on their age and specific needs. It is also recommended to attach the parents’ work schedules and the children’s school schedules to demonstrate the plan’s practicality.
Legal custody refers to the authority to make decisions for and about your children. Clearly state whether parents will share joint legal custody or if one parent will have sole legal custody. In the case of joint legal custody, specify how parents will collaborate on major decisions for the children. You can opt to:
- Require both parents to agree on some or all major decisions.
- Allow parents to make some or all major decisions independently.
- Grant one parent sole decision-making authority.
- Appoint a third party, such as a parenting coordinator, to make decisions in the event of a deadlock.
Regardless of the legal custody arrangement, Georgia requires the plan to state that each parent can make day-to-day decisions when caring for the children.
If your case involves legitimation, child support information may be optional in your parenting plan, unless either parent has independently applied for child support. However, for all other custody cases, it is necessary to attach a completed Child Support Worksheet and Domestic Relations Financial Affidavit to your plan. These documents will be used in Georgia’s child support calculator to determine the recommended payment for your case. The judge (or jury, if requested) will then decide on a monthly payment using the state’s recommendation as a guideline. While child support is not typically addressed further in proposed plans, if both parents reach a settlement, they can include a specific support amount in their joint plan submitted for court approval. If the agreed-upon amount differs from the state’s recommendation, they should provide justification.
Other Essential Provisions
Unless directed otherwise by a judge, your parenting plan must include provisions for the following:
- Exchanging the children
- Transportation arrangements and related costs
- Access to children’s records and information (e.g., school and health records)
- Adjusting the plan as children reach certain ages
If neither parent poses a risk to the health or safety of the children, it is crucial to acknowledge that the children will benefit from close relationships with both parents.
Specific situations require additional provisions in the parenting plan. Consider the following scenarios:
- Daycare: If the children attend daycare, include a proposed daycare schedule.
- Special Education: If the children are homeschooled or require special education, attach the teacher’s or institution’s credentials.
- Health Concerns: If a family member’s health will affect custody and visitation, attach relevant medical documents.
- Limited Visitation: If supervised visitation is necessary, provide details on how it will be implemented and explain why it is in the best interest of the children. In cases involving a history of crime or violence, attach related records and orders, accompanied by a statement confirming or denying wrongdoing.
- Military Parents: For military parents, the plan should address deployment-related issues, such as maintaining contact with the deployed parent, transitioning physical custody to the other parent, whether extended family can have visitation time, and how the plan will resume after deployment. Clearly explain how each provision benefits the children.
Including Additional Information
While not mandatory, it is highly recommended to include as much relevant information as possible in your plan. Consider potential areas of disagreement and include stipulations to address them. Here are some provisions you might want to consider:
- Relocation: Specify the desired area (e.g., school district or county) where both parents must reside. You can also include a timeframe for notifying the other parent of any planned moves.
- Unexpected Changes: Account for circumstances where one parent is unable to fulfill the visitation schedule due to unforeseen circumstances or conflicting extracurricular activities.
- Response Time: Clearly state the duration a parent must wait for the other parent’s response before proceeding with a decision independently.
- Introducing New Partners: Specify guidelines for introducing new partners to the children, such as the timing and the involvement of the other parent.
- Communication between Parents and Children: Establish guidelines for communication when the children are with the other parent, such as appropriate calling times and the sharing of updates throughout the day.
- Address Confidentiality: Include a stipulation that protects the address of an abused parent from being disclosed to the other parent.
- Morality: If concerns exist regarding the other parent’s behavior, outline actions that are not permissible in the presence of the children. For example, you can prohibit the consumption of alcohol during parenting time.
- Mutual Respect: Emphasize the importance of respectful communication between parents to foster healthy family relationships.
Being Thorough and Comprehensive
While the provided templates cover essential information, they may not account for every detail specific to your family’s circumstances. To ensure that all your children’s needs are adequately addressed, consider adding custom provisions or creating your own plan. The Custody X Change app offers the flexibility to incorporate over 140 provisions and allows you to create a custom document that can be attached to a Georgia template or used independently. By taking the time to develop a comprehensive plan, you are setting the foundation for long-term success and harmony for both you and your children.
For further assistance in creating your parenting plan, refer to the following resources:
- Age guidelines for parenting plans and schedules
- Temporary parenting plans and schedules
- Modifying your parenting plan and schedule
To learn more about Thumbuddy To Love and discover fantastic parenting resources, visit their website.