There are a number of provisions required by Georgia law, but most parenting plans also include other considerations to help mitigate misunderstandings and arguments. A well-written, thoughtful plan with clear framework can be extremely useful as an unbiased guide for future decision-making and unexpected situations. You and your attorney will map out components unique to your situation, but here are several common areas to consider if you are in the beginning stages of your separation:
Required Components Under Georgia Law
- Physical custody
- Legal custody (authority to make major decisions)
- Child support
- Exchanging children
- Transporting children
- Access to records and information
- Adjustments when the children reach certain ages
Sub-Questions and Considerations
- Special occasions- Holidays, school breaks, etc. Having a pattern mapped a couple years in advance may help steer the family toward balance and equality in scheduling cherished holiday events.
- Vacation and Travel- Are you both comfortable with the other taking the kids out of town? How far in advance do you need to notify your co-parent? Will the children have access to phones and will the children be expected to keep up communication with the other parent? Are there people who should not be allowed to travel with the children or exclusively stay with them?
- Other family members and friends- Are there people with whom you would not wish to have contact with your child on account of safety?
- Changes- How far in advance will schedule changes be made? How will you request or communicate the changes? What will you do if changes can’t be agreed upon? Will you include a required response time to scheduling change requests?
- Expenses- How will costs be covered? Will you share costs or will you each be responsible when the child is physically in your custody? Will one parent be receiving child support payments? Consider health care, food, clothing, supplies, tuition, extracurriculars.
- Communication for children- How will the kids communicate when staying with the other co-parent? If the children are old enough, it may be helpful to allow for direct communication between parent and children rather than relaying messages that may get lost in translation.
- Communication for co-parents- Have a preferred method (calls, emails, texts) and try to avoid communicating through your children.
- Other common considerations- Involvement of a new partner, special needs of the children, history of family violence, relocation, mental health, long absence careers, sharing photographs of the children online, discipline, technology use by the children, nutrition, family pets, contingency plans for sickness or inclement weather.
- Other behavioral considerations- Parental badmouthing, altering physical appearance (such as an extreme haircut) for young kids without agreement by the other parent, time stealing (such as enrolling a child in an extracurricular during the other parent’s time), drinking or drug use etc. while in the presence of the children
The bottom line is that a parenting plan can hardly be too detailed. Even if a clause seems extraneous now, it may be helpful down the road should disagreements arise. If both of you agree that the plan will be a fail-stop for misunderstandings and obscure situations, you will likely save yourselves time, energy and stress in deciding how to proceed.