Any case in Georgia involving child custody must have a formal parenting plan incorporated into the final decree. O.C.G.A. §19-9-1. In order for a court to incorporate a parenting plan, the plan must meet several requirements. The parenting plan may be agreed upon by both parties and submitted jointly. If the parties cannot agree on a proposed plan, both parties may submit separate plans for the court to consider. If the parties submit separate plans, the judge will make the ultimate decision considering both proposals and the best interests of the child. O.C.G.A. §19-9-1(c).
Regardless of whether the plan is submitted by the parents jointly or individually, the parenting plan MUST include provisions or language acknowledging the following:
(A) A recognition that a close and continuing parent-child relationship and continuity in the child’s life will be in the child’s best interest;
(B) A recognition that the child’s needs will change and grow as the child matures and demonstrate that the parents will make an effort to parent that takes this issue into account so that future modifications to the parenting plan are minimized;
(C) A recognition that a parent with physical custody will make day-to-day decisions and emergency decisions while the child is residing with such parent; and,
(D) That both parents will have access to all of the child’s records and information, including, but not limited to, education, health, extracurricular activities, and religious communications.
The inclusion of these general acknowledgements ensures that the parents think through how they will work together to raise their children. These statements must also appear in any settlement agreement and/or final judgment and decree entered in the case. In order to ensure that your parenting plan is in compliance with this mandate, it is suggested that the exact wording of this statute be included in the plan. If you are using a county specific form to complete your parenting plan, these provisions should already be included.
In addition to the general provisions mentioned above, there are also several specific issues that must be addressed in each parenting plan. These issues include:
(A) Where and when a child will be in each parent’s physical care, designating where the child will spend each day of the year;
(B) How holidays, birthdays, vacations, school breaks, and other special occasions will be spent with each parent including the time of day that each event will begin and end;
(C) Transportation arrangements including how the child will be exchanged between the parents, the location of the exchange, how the transportation costs will be paid, and any other matter relating to the child spending time with each parent;
(D) Whether supervision will be needed for any parenting time and, if so, the particulars of the supervision;
(E) An allocation of decision-making authority to one or both of the parents with regard to the child’s education, health, extracurricular activities, and religious upbringing, and if the parents agree the matters should be jointly decided, how to resolve a situation in which the parents disagree on resolution; and
(F) What, if any, limitations will exist while one parent has physical custody of the child in terms of the other parent contacting the child and the other parent’s right to access education, health, extracurricular activity, and religious information regarding the child.
The items listed above are designed to give parents specific guidance regarding all the details surrounding custody and visitation in order to eliminate confusion or disagreements between the parents. All of these items must be adequately addressed before a court will adopt a parenting plan.