Arizona requires parents to submit a Parenting Plan when parents file for a divorce, separation or child custody. A Parenting Plans is a written document that sets forth a practical schedule for parenting time, each parent's rights and responsibilities for the personal care of the child and for decisions in areas such as education, health care and religious training, the length of time with each parent, when and where the child will celebrate holidays and birthdays during the year, when and where exchanges will take place, how parents exchange information, make important decisions concerning education and medical needs, etc. In essence, it covers every aspect of a child's life.
I look at a Parenting Plan as a fall back position. In other words, parents who are getting along can always trade parenting time, agree to a different holiday schedule or do whatever they agree is in the child's best interest. However, when parents can not agree on anything, the Parenting Plan can be enforced by the police, if necessary.
The very best Parenting Plans are those that are developed by the parents, working together. Only the parents know what is in their child's best interests. Only the parents can tailor a plan that best suits their individual needs. For example, some families will celebrate Thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day while others wait until the weekend to get together with family and friends. Some families always have gatherings on Veteran's Day, some families do not. When parents sit down together and openly discuss what is important to them the Parenting Plan will often result in a schedule that will, in the end, benefit the children and provide them with a safe and happy life. And ultimately, that is the goal!
Parents in the midst of a divorce sometimes forget that the children are also going through the most difficult time of their young life. Children believe that their mother and father should be together. They often internalize the divorce and blame themselves. The most important thing a parent can do for their children during and after a divorce is to assure the children that they will be safe, cared for and that their parent's decisions are being made in their best interests. When a child knows that his/her parents are working together and designing a Parenting Plan designed specifically for them, they feel secure and confident. A child who knows that his/her life was decided by an unknown stranger in a black robe often feels angry and confused.
One of the most stressful things about a divorce is not knowing when and how often you will see your children. Those without a parenting plan often have to rely on the whim of the primary parent in order to see their children. This is not only unfair to the non-custodial parent, but very difficult on the child. A well drafted Parenting Plan will alleviate all of this stress. Yes, you can go on vacation, yes, you can plan family reunions, yes, you and your children will be able to attend the parade on the Fourth of July and carve a pumpkin on Halloween.
A Parenting Plan provides the child with stability. A Plan which is designed by the parents shows the child that both parents continue to work together for their best interests, even after the divorce.