Parenting Plans in Arizona Divorce and Child Custody Cases
We are accustomed to talking about a child custody negotiation as a battle, a war! Parents threaten to blow each other out of the water, to take no prisoners. You’ve read about the awful tricks parents sometimes employ. They include false claims of child abuse, murky alcoholism allegations, charges of neglect, recklessness, drug abuse. All to “win” custody of the children.
But experts agree that it damages kids to be in the middle of a parental tug-of-war. No matter which parent wins, the children are the biggest losers. Their level of stress adjusts to parental stress levels. The more combative the atmosphere, the more anxiety the children carry forward, for months, years and sometimes a lifetime.
Two Kinds of Custody
When parents talk about custody, they usually mean physical custody–which parent the kids live with most of the time. However, legal custody is just as important.
Legal custody means who makes the important decisions for children until they are of age. This includes critical decisions like choices of schools, religion, and medical care. Often parents share legal custody and must come to an agreement on these matters.
Think in Terms of a Parenting Plan
Some states—like Arizona–have changed the terms used to talk about these matters. Instead of “custody,” with its lock-‘em-up connotations, these states talk in terms of parenting time, legal decision-making, and parenting plans.
Ideally, a parenting plan results from negotiations between the parents who work out a schedule that benefits everybody. The plan sets out legal decision-making authority (legal custody). It also includes details about when the kids will be with each parent. If parents cannot work out a parenting plan, the court imposes one.
It is in your best interests and those of your kids to negotiate a parenting plan with your spouse. Make it as detailed as possible. Courts usually approve parenting plans the parents negotiate, even if the terms are very loose. But while loose plans work for a while, they can fall apart when problems arise. Perhaps the amicable relationship between the parents will collapse when one remarries. Perhaps different interpretations of a general plan will cause the parents to fight or return to court. Again, it’s the kids who will suffer.
For the sake of the children, make the plan as detailed as you can.
• Talk through all issues you can identify with the other parent.
• Don’t forget holidays and school vacations, or Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, with the appropriate parent.
• Clearly, defining the start and end times for the each person’s parenting time to preclude confusion or disagreement.
• Think through transportation issues, including where and when exchanges will happen.
Developing a thoughtful, workable parenting plan requires an open mind and a willingness to compromise. But the rewards are great.
Hire an experienced family law attorney to help you write up a comprehensive parenting plan. The less left undecided, the less chance you and your ex will come to blows. And the more chance your kids will emerge from your divorce undamaged.
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