Jane and John are in the middle of a bitter divorce and custody. While they would rather not be in the same room with each other, the soon-to-be former couple are still co-parents of their two young children. Custody disputes in Georgia divorces require a parenting plan. Ideally, this plan will be worked out between the parents and includes several factors.

Scheduling

Before a schedule is made, the decision of custody will have to be decided. If parents cannot agree, a judge will decide. The arrangements can include:

  • Joint legal custody. Both parents are responsible for the child’s well-being. This includes decisions on health care, religion and education. Joint legal custody can include an agreement about physical custody. Parents can agree that the child will spend equal time with each parent.
  • Sole custody: One parent will have the right to make all the decisions about the child and the child will reside with the parent. Visitation rights are given to the noncustodial parent. Information about the child’s school, extracurricular activities and religious activities could also be limited.

Once custody is decided, the challenge is to create a schedule for vacations, holidays and weekends. This can be one of the most acrimonious parts of the plan, especially if both parents are fighting for certain holidays.

Exchanging custody

Some parents are fine with dropping off the child at their former spouse’s residence. But parents who are bitter or angry may have a difficult time seeing their former partner. In this situation, custody exchanges should happen in a public place. Many law enforcement agencies and social service organizations have designated safe places for custody exchanges.

Supervised visitation

A judge may order supervised visitation in some situations that include:

  • A history of domestic violence against the spouse or the children
  • A history of drug use
  • A history of mental instability
  • A criminal history

If supervised visitation is needed, several issues will have to be decided.

  • Who will supervise? Sometimes a judge will allow a family member or friend to oversee the visitation. If no one is acceptable to the court, many social services agencies have staff that provide court-ordered supervision.
  • How often will the visitation occur? This will be decided by several factors. If the parent is undergoing drug treatment or is incarcerated, visitation may be denied or limited until the parent is released. Some social service agencies have rooms set up for supervised visitation.

Contact with the child

Technology enables non-custodial parents to have multiple ways to have contact with their children. FaceTime, Skype, email and the old-fashioned phone call can help the parent and child keep in touch. Some custodial parents are okay with allowing the other parent to have unlimited contact. In some cases, phone calls and other contact may be scheduled.

How is a parenting plan decided?

Ideally, parents will be able to sit down and work out a plan that is in the best interest of the child. But sometimes the parents cannot agree on holidays, visitation and decisions. Parents have three options if they cannot reach an agreement.

  • Mediation involves a neutral third party who sits down with the parents to help them negotiate the parenting plan. Decisions made in mediation are not binding.
  • Arbitration involves a neutral third party who not only helps them negotiate, but who settles the disputes in the parenting plan. The decisions are binding if the judge approves.
  • If all else fails, a judge will make the final decision on the parenting plan.

Divorce is never the child’s fault. A parenting plan should focus on the child’s best interest, which is to have a stable, loving relationship with both parents.

Why do we co-parent?

Well the answer is never simple but as one parent put it:

“Co-parenting. Some say it’s so hard, but for us, we just make the best of it. Like spending two hours at the ball field on Sunday so your dad and step dad can help you with hitting. People always say ‘I don’t know how y’all do it. Y’all co-parent so well!’ My question is, how do you not do it?? We do it because of one word. B. We all 4 put him first. I mean, is that not what parents do? Once you have a kid, their best interest should always be your number one priority. We all 4 love him and we all 4 understand that our relationship with one another affects him directly. It’s not always easy and sometimes we disagree, but I would not have it any other way. I’m so thankful that he has a step mom and step dad that love him just as much as his mommy and daddy do. He’s one lucky little dude & we are pretty lucky ourselves.”

C.O.