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What is a thoughtful parental agreement?

Parents' rights are generally looked upon as equal under the law here in California. There are notable exceptions for when one parent has already proven to be unsuitable for shared custody. Perhaps this is the case because of the demands of their job, or the documented abuse of alcohol and/or drugs, a history of being negligent in the care of the child or children, or one parent is simply unable or unwilling to care for the child. But these days both parents are often involved to varying but generally equal degrees.

The welfare of the child should be the highest priority when a couple gets divorced or separates after having children even if they didn't marry. More than just drawing up a child support agreement, the parenting plan outlines what each parent's role is. It can and should include guidelines about living arrangements (including if the parents must live in the same area), schools, summers, vacation arrangements, etc.

Here are 5 things to consider for a thoughtful parenting agreement:

Address the specifics of the kid's life, be it where they will live, where they go to school, their afterschool interests, and where they need to be during the week versus on weekends. Parents can even decide who will pick up and who drops off when the kids go from one home to the other.

Flexibility is the key. Kids' schedules these days are often as complex as their parent (or even more so) with activities ranging from Tae Kwon Do to basketball to math tutoring to less structured things like enjoying time with grandparents or going to the skate park. It's also good to remember that the needs of the child will change over time as they get older. The circumstances of the parents may change as well.

Parental communication should be clearly defined. It's generally not a good idea to do parental communication through the children. This puts a lot of pressure on the kids even when the parents are in agreement, and it can lead to misunderstandings. Parents need to set aside any personal feelings they may have and focus on the task of co-parenting. The clearer everyone communicates (by text, email, telephone or in person) the happier everyone will be.

Decide who is in charge of health care. Define which health policy a child will be under, and what the protocols are for unexpected trips to the hospital ER as well as scheduled well visits.

Decide what culture and family traditions will be honored: i.e. religion, language, holidays and family events.

Whether going into a court of law or using a mediator, its best to have the arrangement formalized using an attorney experienced in the area of family law. If you, a friend or family member needs a parental agreement, a lawyer can insure that the child as well as the rights of parents are protect to the fullest extent under the law.

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