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California child custody arrangements include parenting plans

Parenting agreements outline how separated or divorced parents intend to share responsibilities for raising children. California child custody laws require divorced parents to create parenting plans, but the task can be difficult when relationship-related emotions interfere with the ability to negotiate and compromise. San Diego parents have an incentive to cooperate, since courts decide issues parents cannot resolve.

Custody and visitation agreements should place the best interests of children first, in line with family law and court standards. Legal and physical custody determinations come before all other decisions. These responsibilities may be exclusive to one parent or shared by both.

State laws are designed to encourage both parents to assume active roles in their children's lives, whether a parenting plan includes sole or joint custody. Sole legal custody gives one parent decision-making rights concerning a child's welfare. With sole physical custody, children reside with one parent and have visitations with a non-custodial parent.

With joint legal custody, parents share the duty of making important child-rearing choices. Under joint physical custody arrangements, children spend generous portions of time with both parents. The children are considered residents of both households.

Once the basic custody and visitation structure of a parenting plan is set, parents have the chance to get down to details. An agreement can include long-range choices about children's schooling, day care and medical providers. The plan may be fine-tuned to specify terms, like how and when parents will communicate or behave toward one another over child concerns.

Mediation is the first step, when disputes occur during the drafting of a parenting plan or later during an agreement modification. A judge takes up the matter, when a mediator cannot help parents settle all or part of their conflicts. Final versions of parenting plans, designed by parents or with the help of a mediator or judge, and any plan modifications must have the court's approval.

Source: The Superior Court of California, County of Orange, "Custody & Visitation" Aug. 02, 2014

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