Even an amicable divorce can be emotional and difficult for children. In Georgia, the courts want your children to emerge from your divorce whole and healthy, with a positive relationship with both of their parents. In an effort to encourage this outcome, the state requires you to have a parenting plan with your soon-to-be ex-spouse.
A parenting plan addresses the following issues:
- Legal custody. Legal custody means you can make important decisions about how to raise your children, including education, medical decisions and extracurricular activities. Many courts default to giving both parents joint legal custody because they recognize the importance of having both parents involved in the child's life.
- Physical custody. Primary physical custody determines where your children live most of the time. The law does not favor one parent over the other, and you may have joint physical custody, though some families find that constant swapping can be difficult on the children.
- Parenting time. Parenting time, also referred to as visitation, is the time the parent who does not have primary physical custody spends with the children. Parenting time usually follows a set schedule. Every family is different, and every schedule is different. You can set a schedule that works for you and your children based on work schedules, school schedules and outside activities. Many non-custodial parents spend extra time with their children during school breaks and summers.
Tips for smooth co-parenting
When co-parenting works well, nobody benefits more than your children. Studies show that children thrive when their divorced parents get along. You and your spouse can give them stability and security while fostering a strong relationship with both parents. Here are a few tips:
- Keep the focus on the children: Whatever issues you have with your spouse, do not put your kids in the middle. Do not argue in front of them or bad-mouth your spouse to them. Never ask your kids to act as a go-between.
- Communication is key: You and your spouse now share one primary concern: your children. Treat your spouse like a co-worker. Be respectful and courteous, especially when making requests. Listen to your ex's ideas and keep the conversation focused on the children.
- Try to be consistent: Children need consistency and stability, especially in a time of change and upheaval. Keep to your schedule. If you can, try to have the same rules and discipline plan at both houses.
If you cannot agree
If the two of you cannot agree to a parenting plan, mediation may be a wise investment. Unfortunately, there are times when issues of abuse or addiction make co-parenting impossible. Otherwise, litigating the matter in court should always be your last option. A parenting plan created by two loving parents will always be superior to one created by a judge.