Parents can create an environment where children feel less stressed with the new changes if they work to co-parent with their child’s needs at the forefront. Establishing a parenting plan as an agreement that helps both parents get on the same page and work together is the number one way you can ease the stress on your child. In addition, drafting a parenting plan is one of several proactive ways parents can outline critical issues ahead of time to avoid conflict later.
Steps To Creating a Successful Parenting Plan in AZ
Here we will outline the most important steps to take while creating a parenting plan. Keeping these key points in mind helps you create a parenting plan that encompasses all the needs of the family and prepares you to handle critical issues before they arise.
1. Work Towards the Best Interests of the Child
When children are involved, the first step of creating any parenting plan should involve both parents making an agreement to work together for the children’s benefit. It is essential for both parents to discuss these critical aspects of the children’s lives, including physical and emotional well-being.
When relationships end, children need extra special care to adapt successfully to the new situation, and parents need to facilitate an environment that allows children to ask questions and feel supported on both ends. If you have decided to have a parenting plan, it is safe to assume that you wish for your children to have a smooth transition into this new dynamic and will make every effort to be there for them.
This involves creating a parenting plan that considers your child’s physical needs, such as shelter, medical care, diet, recreation and activities, and physical safety. Your child’s emotional needs such as mental health, education, close relationships, and socializing should also be discussed while making the plan. Covering both the physical and emotional needs of children helps parents evaluate which life aspects will have to be adjusted and which life aspects should be preserved to maintain a sense of stability for the child.
2. Create a Parenting Schedule That Works for Both Parties
The parenting schedule refers to the amount of time each parent will spend physically caring for the children and how much time the child will spend with each parent. Again, the details of the schedule will vary depending on the needs of the family members, but the goal should be to create a schedule that works for all involved.
Another thing to remember about parenting plans is that life happens, and when it does, plans must change to accommodate new needs. For this reason, flexibility will be crucial for maintaining a parenting plan that works long-term. For some families, this means parents will work to maintain a 50/50 schedule where they aim to share an equal amount of time with the child. For others, a 50/50 arrangement may not be possible, so they will create a schedule that allows optimal parenting time without interrupting work schedules or disrupting the children’s lives.
Some examples of common parenting schedules include:
- A biweekly rotation schedule where the child spends one week with the mother and the next week with the father.
- A 2-2-5-5 rotation schedule where the child has two (2) days with the mother, two (2) days with the father, then five (5) consecutive days with the mother, and five (5) consecutive days with the father.
- A 3-3-4-4 rotation schedule where the setup is like the 2-2-5-5 schedule, but the splits are 3-4 days per parent.
- In the 2-2-3 rotation schedule, a child would spend two days in the home of the first parent, the next two days in the home of the second parent, and a three-day weekend with the first parent. In this schedule, the rotation would cycle back and forth between parents, allowing for weekdays and weekends to be shared with the children.
Remember: your parenting schedule should suit your and your co-parent’s abilities to be present for the child, so don’t force an arrangement that is unreasonable for either of you to honor consistently.
3. Be Sure to Consider Your Child’s Age and Development
How much time a child spends with each parent and the timing required to fill out the schedule will likely change as your child ages. Children have different needs as they grow and develop, especially when it comes to their parents. Consider these age and development-related considerations:
0 to 2 Years
Babies and young toddlers are still learning to trust their caregivers. They require constant care, a consistent schedule, and extremely specific feeding guidelines. Babies can become attached to a particular caregiver, especially if one parent is breastfeeding. Later, toddlers can push boundaries. At this age, it is important to consider whether both parents can care for the child overnight, whether the child has developed a bond with both parents, and which parent or parents can maintain the schedule the child has become accustomed to.
2 to 5 Years
At this age, children often experience a stronger bond with one caregiver over others. They are also learning to assert their independence and may become resistant to moving between homes; many will feel anxious about being separated from their primary caregiver. Parents can help soothe this anxiety by continuing to follow a consistent schedule and avoiding negativity or hostility at exchanges. Also, consider keeping holidays and birthdays consistent and inform children in advance, so they know what to expect.
Elementary Aged Children
During elementary school (often ages 6 to 10), children are building more independence from their parents and may be more accepting of long periods away from each other. As a result, their worry often shifts from separation anxiety to concern over losing one parent. Some even feel responsible for their parents’ separation. At this age, parents can consider creating an equal parenting plan to provide the child with the opportunity to bond with both parents and reassure them that their parents will continue to love and care for them.
Middle School-Aged Children
During the middle school years (typically ages 11, 12, and 13), children are more likely to be embarrassed or upset that their parents’ marriage is ending. They may also feel resentful at having to shift from household to household. Some even side with one parent. During this time, parents should be careful not to vent frustrations about the other parent in front of the child and be cautious about creating distance between the child and one parent. Consider involving the child in the decisions regarding where they will live and when and be sure to incorporate the child’s extracurricular activities in schedule decisions.
High School-Aged Children
Teenagers are not only asserting their independence like never before, but are also experiencing dramatic shifts in hormones, emotions, friend groups, school life, and more. Parents should be careful to avoid involving their teenager in parenting conflicts, but also cognizant of ensuring their child knows they care about how the divorce is affecting them. While teens need plenty of time with both parents, many benefit from establishing a home base of sorts to keep things consistent for friends, school, and activities, then spending weekends and holidays with the other parent. Many teens enjoy the option of providing input on their living situation.
4. Decide How You Will Communicate
This step may seem simple, but it is just as important as the other steps in your parenting plan. You may decide to speak over the phone, via text, email, in person, or a combination of these methods. Whichever form of communication you choose, you must be consistent and respectful of each other’s needs as co-parents for your parenting plan to proceed smoothly. Healthy and consistent communication between co-parents will be another key component to maintaining harmony and helping all parties feel supported in the new family dynamic.
5. Handle Major Decisions About Childcare
If you and your co-parent both have legal decision-making authority for your child, you will need to discuss how you will make important decisions for them in your parenting plan. Take time to discuss how both parties will address issues such as education, religious practices, cultural practices, and more.
It is fine not to have all the answers up front as long as both parties agree to discuss these life areas moving forward. In addition, all must agree to keep the lines of communication open. When the time comes to make crucial decisions, remember the parenting plan, agree to compromise when possible and keep the child’s needs at the forefront of any final decisions.
6. Hash Out Childcare-Related Expenses
While legal and physical custody typically depends on the financial resources and availability of the parents, both parties are expected to be financially responsible for the child. Child support payments are often mandated in these cases to serve to cover a child’s essential living expenses.
While many of your child’s expenses may be covered with child support, it is also important for parents to discuss how any additional costs like emergencies or travel will be divided. If you need help working through these details, your attorney can assist you with documentation for financial contributions and help you create a system to keep track of the agreement.
7. Maintain the Goals Set in the Parenting Plan
For this step, we recommend that you and your co-parent keep the successful upbringing of your children as your only priority once your parenting plan is set. Ending your relationship or marriage is not ideal, but you can continue to work together to raise happy, healthy children once the union ends.
Parenting as a united front will provide a sense of stability in your child’s upbringing and help them understand that you both still have their best interests at heart. In the long run, your parenting plan will prove successful because you both decided to keep the lines of communication open, stick to a schedule you can both honor, work together to make necessary decisions, and utilize flexibility when needed.
Long Distance Parenting
Of course, it isn’t always possible for both parents to remain in the same city, state, or even region. However, if you are planning on one parent becoming a long-distance parent or moving with a child, you must have the relocation approved by a judge if there will be over 100 miles or a state line between the two homes. According to ARS § 25‐408, any move must be in the best interests of the child and consider the child’s education, friends, family ties, developmental needs, and unique needs. You will also need to make provisions regarding which parent will pay for the child’s travel expenses. Often, this is done in proportion to each parent’s earning power, but if one parent is choosing to move, they typically pay a greater portion of the costs.
If only a parent is moving a considerable distance away, it is important to consider the many ways this can weaken the long-distance parent’s relationship with the child. Limited physical contact and large gaps of time between visits can make it challenging to maintain a healthy relationship. If you are planning to become a long-distance parent, it is essential to create a parenting plan that outlines at least four blocks of parenting time, preferably over school breaks. In addition, be flexible and make arrangements that allow both parents the opportunity to enjoy important holidays and other special occasions with their children.
Required Parenting Provisions
Once you’ve created an outline that dictates how you will divide your parenting time, it’s time to create a parenting agreement for AZ family court that describes the decisions you’ve made.
In the state of Arizona, a parenting agreement must contain these provisions:
- Legal Decision-Making—Often referred to as legal custody in other states, Arizona’s legal decision-making provisions will outline which parent or parents have the authority to make final decisions regarding the child’s care. Decisions can be made by one parent (sole decision-making authority) or both parents (joint decision-making authority.
- Medical Care—Parents must provide provisions for medical care for any children with special needs. It is also required to specify who must provide insurance and whether each parent can seek medical or dental care for the children in an emergency despite the legal decision-making provision.
- Education—Parents must create a provision describing where and how the child will attend school and participate in activities, parent-teacher conferences, and more.
- Religion—Any religious education, or a lack thereof, must be described in the parenting plan.
You may also want to create provisions to establish guidelines for:
- Child discipline
- New partners
- Communication between co-parents and between parents and children
- Child safety
- Resolving disagreements
- Any anticipated changes as children age
Additional Required Statements
In addition to parent responsibilities, decision-making authority, and parenting time, you must also include several statements in the text of your parenting plan. These statements recognize that certain Arizona statutes exist and certify that you will abide by them.
Here are the required co-parenting statements your parenting plan must include a statement that:
- Acknowledges ARS §25-403.05 (B) – certifies you and your co-parent will notify one another immediately if someone convicted of a sex crime has access to your child.
- Acknowledges ARS §25-403.06 – certifies both you and your co-parent will have access to the child’s school, medical, and legal records unless the court orders otherwise.
- Certifies both parents will follow the established parenting plan during any dispute until the dispute is settled.
- Certifies both parents can petition the court to enforce any violations of the parenting time plan.
- Outlines any history of domestic violence, including allegations of domestic violence.
- Makes the court aware of any domestic violence allegations, DUI, or substance use within the last twelve months and outlines both parents’ reasoning why the court should determine shared custody is in the best interests of the child.
Help with Your Parenting Plan in Arizona
Drafting a coherent and cohesive parenting plan in Arizona can seem daunting if you do not have experience with the law. Trust Draft My Legal Docs to assist you with the process and remove the stress from your planning. We specialize in helping families create and draft documents that outline the implementation of cooperative parenting dynamics for Arizona court and mediation.
Our licensed attorneys can help you develop a parenting plan that works, support you with any legal issues that may arise during the filing process, and ensure your parenting plan includes the necessary components. Don’t take on the task of drafting your parenting plan alone. Let our team of experts walk you through the process and provide sound guidance you can trust.
Jonathan Roeder is one of the founding partners of The Valley Law Group. He is an Arizona native who has dedicated his life and career to the service of others. After graduating salutatorian of his high school class, Jonathan attended beautiful and prestigious Pepperdine University, where he majored in Political Science. During his tenure at Pepperdine University, his passion for helping others grew after securing a clinical position with a residential treatment center for juveniles with substance addictions. Post-graduation, Jonathan returned to Arizona and served as a residential manager for mentally and physically disabled homes.