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Parenting Plan Guidelines (Orange County, California, USA, 2005)

This booklet was written to help separated and divorced parents develop child focused and realistic custody, residence and contact parenting plans.

NB: This example is American and does not literally apply in Australia and should NOT be quoted or used literally in Australian family law courts.  Instead, the usefulness of this information lies in its coverage of examples and listing of matters - the issues and the elements - to consider when drafting an Australian parenting plan or court orders. Additionally, some phrases and sentences may suggest useful wordings that could be integrated into an Australian plan or orders.



The attached Parenting Plan Guide provides a useful overview of ideas and elements to consider for inclusion in your own parenting plan or children's orders.

Be sure to understand and modify the USA factors if adapting for the needs of your child(ren) here in Australia.

Attachment
Parenting Plan Guidelines, Orange County, California, USA

Table of Contents
 
Introduction   (Page 1)
 
Part I: Overview of Parenting Plan Guidelines   (Page 1)
 
Part II: Definitions of Legal and Physical Custody   (Page 2)
 
Part III: Schedules of Contact   (Page 4)
 
A.  Infancy to 3 Years Old   (Page 4)
B.  3 to 5 Years Old   (Page 6)
C.  6 to 11 Years Old   (Page 8)
D.  12 to 18 Years Old   (Page 10)
 
Part IV: Schedules for Holidays   (Page 12)

Part V: Schedules for School Breaks   (Page 15)
 
Part VI: Parenting Plan Worksheets   (Page 17)
 
Part VII: Special Circumstances Affecting Parental Contact   (Page 21)
Overview
 
Research findings suggest that in an effort to maximize a childs adjustment to the process of separation and divorce, parents should cooperatively plan to establish a parenting arrangement that will ensure the childs right to continuous and frequent contact with both parents.

Some of the most important factors to consider when developing a parenting plan in the best interest of your child include the following:

- Age, gender, and stage of development of the child

- Emotional, social, and educational needs of the child

- Health, welfare, and safety of the child

- Level of communication and cooperation between parents

- Parenting ability and psychological adjustment of each parent

- Quality of the parent-child relationships

- Parental support systems

- Cultural factors
  
The following guidelines are based on the age of the child and stage of development.  In each age category, guidelines are provided to help parents select from options that will best meet their childs needs.
SCHEDULES OF CONTACT
A. Infancy to 3 Years Old

In order for infants and toddlers to develop secure attachments to their parents, it is critically important that the separation time from the mother and father be small to minimize anxiety, keep attachments secure, and keep the child comfortable with both parents.  It is hard for the child to maintain a memory of the parent if the parent is not there.  Infants and toddlers have difficulty conceptualizing time and need frequent and continuing contact with a predictable pattern.  Separation anxiety is most intense around fifteen (15) to twenty-four (24) months of age. Although it is normal for children at this developmental stage to cry and cling during transitions, most children can be quickly comforted by each parent.

The following parenting plan options for infants and toddlers are guidelines for schedules for the non-custodial parent. These guidelines are based on the degree of attachment with the non-custodial parent. (See Essential Considerations on next page for information about degree of attachment.)   

Suggested Parenting Plan Options:
 
*The following options are dependent upon the age and maturity of the child, pattern of contact with each parent, family lifestyle, and presence of siblings.  Gradual increase of the less attached parents contact should occur over time.
 
Child Attached to Both Parents
(Child is comfortable and secure with both parents.)
     
1.  Parent A - Tuesday, Thursday 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
                   Saturday 10:00 a.m. to Sunday 10:00 a.m.
    Parent B - All other times
  
2. Parent A - Tuesday 5:00 p.m. to Wednesday 9:00 a.m.
                  Thursday 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
                  Saturday 5 :00 p.m. to Sunday 5:00 p.m.
   Parent B - All other times
   
3. Parent A - Wednesday 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
                  Saturday noon  Sunday 5:00 p.m.
   Parent B - All other times
  
4. Parent A - Wednesday 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.
                  Saturday 5:00 p.m. to Monday 8:30 a.m.
   Parent B - All other times
  
5. Parent A - Tuesday noon  Wednesday noon
                  Thursday noon  Friday noon
                  Saturday noon  Sunday noon
   Parent B - All other times
   
*Parents may agree on any combination of the above.

Child Less Attached to One Parent (Parent A)
(Child is significantly less comfortable and secure with one parent.) **
 
Weeks 1 & 2  (Parent A)
Minimum (2 hours) per visit, three times per week on non-consecutive days
 
Weeks 3, 4, & 5  (Parent A)
Minimum (3 to 4 hours) per visit, three times per week non-consecutive days
 
Weeks 6 & 7  (Parent A)
Minimum (5 to 6 hours) per visit, three times per week nonconsecutive days
 
Week 8  (Parent A)
See Schedule for Child Attached to Both Parents
 
**Child is with Parent B at all other times
 
Essential Considerations - Infancy to 3 Years Old

- Degree of Attachment  Attachment can be defined as the level of trust, security, and bonding in a parent/child relationship.  If a parent has not had contact with an infant to 3-year-old child for an extended period of time or has not been involved in the day to day care of the child, contact should start slowly and gradually increase as the child adjusts and feels more comfortable.

- In order to maximize childs trust and security, it is critical the less attached parent spend significant alone time caring for the child.

- Information regarding the infant/toddlers diet, medications, daily routine, etc. should be provided by the custodial parent.

- In order to communicate the feeling of security to the child, it is usually best the primary parent deliver the child to the other parent.

- Exchanges are to be done quickly with no excessive delays.

- Security object(s) may go with the child.

- Days of contact should be consistent.
B. 3 to 5 Years Old
 
Current research suggests that children in this age group can form strong attachments to both parents as well as other adults and caregivers.  Along with the growing ability to form attachments with many people comes the ability to tolerate longer periods of separation from attachment figures.  Important for children throughout the preschool years are consistency, predictability, and structure.   

Suggested Parenting Plan Options:

Essential Considerations  3 to 5 Years Old

- Consistency, predictability, and structure are important during the preschool years.

- Children in this age group are able to follow their schedules using color-coded blocks of time to represent time with each parent marked on a calendar.

- Children in this age group are able to understand one parent may do things differently than the other parent, or rules may differ in different places.

- Preschool children are capable of spending overnights with each parent; however, weeklong blocks of time may seem very long to such young children, and a visit with the other parent midweek may be necessary.

- Most important for children in this age group is that they are not exposed to parental conflict.  Exposure to parental conflict can cause young children to experience anxiety and to regress to younger behaviours.

- Nightmares are common for young children and some of their anxieties are often expressed as fears or through nightmares.  Nightmares do not necessarily mean the child is having bad experiences with either parent.

- Young children are very self-centered and often dislike changing activities when they are interested in a particular activity.  They may cry, for example, when dropped off at preschool or when they are picked up from preschool.  Similar protests can occur during parental exchanges of the child.

- If a child cries when one parent picks up the child, this may mean only that the child does not want to "switch gears"; and such incidents should not be universally interpreted to mean that there is a problem between the parent and child.
C. 6 to 11 Years Old

Most six to eleven-year-old children can handle moving back and forth between parents homes with ease, although some children do better spending more time at one home.  The childs school schedule, extra-curricular activities, parents work schedule, and availability to provide transportation and supervision, are important factors in deciding on a parenting plan in this age group.  Stability, predictability, ensuring the childs preparedness for school, and protection from parental conflict are essential to the childs adjustment.   

Suggested Parenting Plan Options:
 
1. Parent A - Alternate weekends Saturday and/or Sunday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
                  and Wednesday evenings from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.
    Parent B - All other times
   
2. Parent A - Alternate weekends from Friday at 6:00 p.m. until Sunday at 6:00 p.m.    
                  and Wednesdays from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.
    Parent B - All other times
   
3. Parent A - Alternate weekends from Saturday at 8:00 a.m. until Sunday at 8:00 p.m.    
                  and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.
    Parent B - All other times
   
4. Parent A - Alternate weekends from Friday evening until Monday morning     
                  and every Wednesday overnight
    Parent B - All other times
   
5. Parent A - Monday afternoon to Wednesday morning  
                  Every other weekend (Friday afternoon to Monday morning)
    Parent B - Wednesday afternoon to Friday morning    
                  Every other weekend (Friday afternoon to Monday morning)
   
6. Parent A - Saturday evening through Wednesday morning

    Parent B - Wednesday afternoon through Saturday evening
   
7. Parent A - Alternate weeks with Parent B

    Parent B - Alternate weeks with Parent A
 
*Parents may agree on any combination of the above.

Essential Considerations  6 to 11 Years Old

- Parents need to communicate with each other about establishing consistent rules, structure, and discipline for the child.

- Exchanges should be done quickly and without conflict to reduce transition issues for the child.

- Exchanges may be done by pickup and return at school or daycare.

- Neither parent should schedule outside/extracurricular activities that interfere with the other parents court-ordered time with the child without mutual agreement.

-  Parents need to agree mutually on any rescheduling in a timely manner.

- Parents should communicate when there are changes in the schedule.
D. 12 to 18 Years Old

Adolescents are developing a separate identity from their parents and typically are more focused on activities and relationships outside the home.  At the same time they need ongoing contact with both parents and continued guidance about rules and standards for their behaviour.  Adolescents often want to be more independent and to have a say in their living arrangements.  Parents may find it helpful to allow older teens to express their ideas for schedules and living arrangements, while making it clear that it is still up to the parents to make the final decisions.  Flexibility is the key in accepting childrens increasing ability to care for their own needs and make more of their own decisions, while making sure that access to both parents occurs on a regular basis.

Suggested Parenting Plan Options:
 
1. Parent A - Every other weekend (Friday 6:00 p.m. to Sunday 6:00 p.m.)

   Parent B - All other times
   
2. Parent A - Every other weekend (Friday 6:00 p.m. to Sunday 6:00 p.m.)
                  plus weekly mid-week visit (Wednesday 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.)
   Parent B - All other times
   
3. Parent A - Every other weekend (Friday 6:00 p.m. to Sunday 6:00 p.m.)
                  plus weekly midweek overnight (Wednesday 5:00 p.m. to Thursday before school)
   Parent B - All other times
   
4. Parent A - Every other weekend (Friday afternoon to Monday morning)
                  plus weekly midweek overnight  
    Parent B - All other times
   
5. Parent A - Monday afternoon to Wednesday morning   
                  Parents alternate weekends Friday afternoon to Monday morning
   Parent B - Wednesday afternoon to Friday morning   
                  Parents alternate weekends Friday afternoon to Monday morning   
   
6. Parent A - Monday afternoon to Wednesday morning
                  Friday afternoon to Saturday/Sunday
   Parent B - Wednesday afternoon to Friday morning     
                  Saturday/Sunday to Monday morning
   
7. Parent A - Alternate weekly custodial periods with Parent B

    Parent B - Alternate weekly custodial periods with Parent A
   
8. Parent A - Alternate fourteen day custodial periods with Parent B

    Parent B - Alternate fourteen day custodial periods with Parent A
   
*Parents may agree on any combination of the above.
 
Essential Considerations  12 to 18 Years Old

- It is not unusual for teenagers to be angry or embarrassed by the break-up of their parents and to
side with one parent over the other.  It is important for both parents to be sensitive to their feelings, yet both parents need to encourage ongoing contact with that parent in spite of these feelings.

- Older adolescents may resist a rigid weekly schedule and may prefer to make adjustments in the schedule based on school activities or other extra-curricular activities.

- Both parents need to support their childrens participation in extra-curricular activities even if it conflicts with their parenting time.

- Effective parental communication and cooperation are required in order to support adolescents in their school and extra-curricular activities.

- While input from their child should be considered, it is the final responsibility of the parents to agree upon the parenting plan.

- Parents should not use the children as messengers, but should communicate directly with one another.

- Flexibility and communication are keys in maintaining positive parent/child relationships.

- Parents should not rely upon their children for emotional support.

- Often teenagers after having lived with one parent wish to spend more time or to live with the other parent.  Developmentally this can be appropriate since the adolescent is struggling with forming an identity and often  needs to have meaningful contact with the other parent to successfully form their self-concept.
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