How to Create the Perfect California Co-parenting Plan

What happens to your children after your divorce? Will they live with you? When will they visit the other parent? Who makes important legal decisions? You will answer these questions in a co-parenting plan. 

California courts must review and sign your plans before they're official. And judges need limited details documented in the forms you submit. But some parents create very detailed documents outlining how they will share their children. 

Researchers say most children with divorced parents are resilient, and they show no obvious signs of psychological difficulty. But they do often worry about events (like graduations or weddings) where both parents will be present. 

A detailed co-parenting plan could ease your child's concerns. You will work through scenarios together long before they happen, and this preparation can pave a smoother path for all involved. 

This guide will help you understand how to create a California co-parenting plan like this. 

What details do the California courts require?

Without a court order, you and your partner share rights equally, and no parent is allowed to have the children more often than the other. A co-parenting plan can change that, and California requires two very important details:

1. Child custody

Two types of child custody exist in the California system. They include the following:

  • Legal: This form of custody outlines who can make important decisions for a child. Doctors, teachers, police officers, and other officials rely on legal custody details when they're looking for the person who makes decisions for the child. 
  • Physical: This form of custody contains plans about where the child lives. Physical custody plans also detail when the child visits the other parent. 

Parents can opt for joint custody, where they share legal and physical obligations, or they can choose sole plans. 

A parent can opt for sole legal custody and joint physical custody (or the other way around).

Read: Child Custody in California: Everything You Need to Know

2. Parenting schedule 

When parents select joint physical custody, they can choose from two of the following different types of plans:

  • Scheduled: Dates and times of visits are planned in advance.

Reasonable: Open-ended plans allow parents to work out the details as they happen.

Suggested: Common Parenting Time Schedules: Which Is Right for You?

What other information should be included?

A detailed co-parenting plan can include information you're not sure you need now but are happy to have later on. These are a few of the other items commonly found inside longer co-parenting plans:

Dropoff and pickup routines

As a co-parent, your child will move from your home to another regularly. Exchanges can be terse or combative, and sometimes, they can even get violent. With the right plan, you can outline exactly what to expect so both parties know to be on their best behavior. 

Your plan could include the following details:

  • Where the parents meet
  • What time a typical pickup or drop-off takes place
  • If the parents speak to one another
  • How long the drop-off partner will wait for the other

Child care assistance

Meetings, dates, outings, and other sudden events could leave your children in need of supervision. More than 60% of parents have hired a babysitter without checking references. Others leave children with family members who may not be pleased about the divorce. 

Your co-parenting plan could require you to offer the other party the opportunity to babysit for you, or you could settle on babysitter agreements. These agreements may outline who is an acceptable option or how you'd choose someone new. 

Communication plans

You will talk with your co-parent regularly about the children. Your co-parenting plan could specify how you'll share information

Some parents choose to text one another instead of calling. You could also email one another instead of talking in person. 

Missed opportunities and makeup plans

The average child gets ill six to eight times per year. Often, these children make their parents sick, too. Sickness could put sharing plans on hold. Your co-parenting plans could include ideas about how the other parent would get makeup visits or time with the child. 

Talking with the kids

Divorces are difficult, and many people process their emotions by talking about them. You could include instructions within the co-parenting plan about how you'll refer to one another, talk about difficult issues, or otherwise ensure you don’t bash one another in front of the children. 

Read: The Secret to Keeping Your Divorce Amicable

Dispute resolution 

Even the best plans can’t prevent all conflicts and disagreements. Your co-parenting plan could include information about how you get through problems without the help of the court system. 

For example, you could discuss how you’ll work with a mediator to help you resolve conflicts without filing court orders. If you worked with a mediator you like during your divorce, you could put that person’s name or office name in your documents. 


What will the court consider during a review?

A California judge must look over your co-parenting plan and sign it. This review could be cursory and quick, or it could be much more detailed. 

To decide what is best for a child, the judge considers the following:

  • The child’s age and health
  • Emotional connections between both parents and the child
  • The child’s feelings about the home, school, and community
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child
  • Any history of family violence or substance abuse

If you’ve kept these ideas in mind as you worked on your co-parenting plan, the judge should be able to sign your documents with no concerns. 

Create the perfect co-parenting plan in California

A co-parenting plan takes time to craft, especially if it's very detailed. The following steps will help:

1. Schedule a meeting

You must work with your partner on a co-parenting plan. Since there's so much to discuss, it's often best to get together in person. If you struggle to collaborate with your partner, a mediator may help. A mediator can guide your discussion and help you find solutions without fighting. 

2. Keep detailed notes

Write down everything you decide during your meeting. Your notes will help you fill out documents later, and they can help you solidify your decisions as you make them. 

3. Put your plan in writing

California courts require two formal documents from parents crafting co-parenting plans, including the following:

  • Child Custody and Visitation Order Attachment (FL-341)
  • Stipulation and Order for Custody and/or Visitation of Children (FL-355)

These forms are attached to your final divorce decree, and they become part of the legal record of your divorce. 

4. Review the written plans

After you've written everything down, look over the documents carefully. Ask your spouse to do the same. Give yourself time to complete a thorough review. 

5. Sign the documents

Like all California legal documents, your forms must be signed. You and your spouse complete this important step before your final divorce hearing. 

6. Prepare for court and file documents 

A judge must sign your documents before they're considered legal. Most people tackle this step during the final divorce hearing. When that's completed, you must file your documents with the court. 


Parental Divorce or Separation and Children's Mental Health. (February 2019). World Psychiatry. 
Child Custody and Parenting Time. Judicial Branch of California. 
Child Custody Exchange Safety. Releases Statistics from First Annual Babysitter Survey. (March 2015). Business Wire. 
New School Year, New Germs: How to Manage Frequent Illness This School Year. (September 2022). Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Developing a Child Custody Parenting Plan. (January 2012). Superior Court of California, County of San Diego. 
Prepare a Custody and Parenting Time Agreement. Judicial Branch of California.
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