Dear Judge,

My ex and I are on a tight budget and want to avoid costly attorney’s fees. We get along well. Can we come up with a Parenting Plan on our own without hiring an attorney?

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Absolutely! As long as you and your coParent are committed to working together to create a Parenting Plan that’s best for your children, there is no need for extra costs.

Now, before I shed some light on how to create an affordable Parenting Plan, let’s review exactly what a Parenting Plan is. A Parenting Plan is also frequently referred to as a Custody and visitation agreement. It is a written schedule that outlines how, when and where your children will spend their time. It also includes information about the decisions you and your ex make about your children’s health and well-being.

When creating a Parenting Plan, the first things to consider are your children’s ages, personalities, activities, and school schedule. Every child, and every family is different. Adjusting your plan to your children, and NOT your children to YOUR plan is very important here. I’ve even heard some refer to it as a “Child’s Parenting Plan,” because ultimately the plan is for their benefit!

In general, you’ll want to make sure your Parenting Plan includes the following information:

Physical Custody: Where will your children be during the week, weekends, and on holidays?

Legal Custody: Who makes important decisions about the children? Be specific about which decisions you and your coParent can make without the other’s consent. Things like choosing a school, daycare, religious preference, and medical treatment are important to consider here.

While it’s not required to seek legal counsel, it can be helpful to understand the legal requirements for parenting plans where you live.  Additionally, coParents may need a little extra help throughout the process, especially if they’re newly separated. The coParenter app, for example, is an excellent resource to help create a Parenting Plan or alter one that already exists. The app has the Get Help feature where you can access a live chat with an on-demand professional who can assist in creating or changing a Parenting Plan. In addition, many courts across the country have self-help or Family Law Centers where court staff can walk you through the process and provide forms and information needed to file Parenting Plans with the Court.

While attorneys aren’t required, keep in mind that Parenting Plans can have important legal implications. For example, changes to where children are spending the majority of their time can have an effect on how much child support one receives. Remember- filing a family’s Parenting Parenting plan with the Court can help to make it official.

Finally, I want to applaud you and your coParent for your commitment to working together. Kudos to you for putting aside your differences to create a Parenting Plan that works for everyone. By coming to an agreement amongst yourselves about your children’s needs and schedule, you’ll save time and money — freeing up your resources to focus on them!

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About Hon. Sherrill Ellsworth (Ret.)

Judge Sherrill Ellsworth (Ret.) is the Chief Community Officer for coParenter.

Ellsworth is the Past Presiding Judge of Riverside County, a Judicial Educator and former Family Law Judge.

After almost 20 years on the bench, she has earned a reputation for being a straight-forward, no-nonsense, fair judicial officer. A broadly talented jurist and settlement expert, Ellsworth has effectively handled complex civil litigation cases, family law, felony criminal trials, probate and general trials throughout her almost 30 years of lawyering and judging. Ellsworth was one of the court's most respected and admired bench officers, earning the trust and revere of her colleagues and the lawyers who appeared before her.

In 2014, Ellsworth was named the Lawyer of the year by the J.Rueben Clark Law Society Los Angeles Chapter. Also in 2014 for her Judicial leadership she was named as an Inductee to Western State University Hall of Fame. And from 2012 to 2014, Ellsworth served as a voting member of California's Judicial Council.

In 2013, Ellsworth was awarded the Douglas Weathers Judicial Leadership Award by the California Consumer Attorneys, as well as various awards for her judicial leadership both as Presiding Judge and for Family Law. In 1999, she was named the American Business Women’s Association Woman of the Year for Judicial Leadership. Ellsworth was appointed vice-chair of the California Court Case Management System Justice Partner Advisory Committee in 2010. She was a member of the Strategic Evaluation Committee appointed by the Chief Justice and of the council’s Trial Court Budget Working Group, Trial Court Presiding Judges Advisory Committee, Family and Juvenile Law Advisory Committee, and Task Force on Self-Represented Litigants.

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