Joint custody must include a parenting plan

If you and your spouse are given joint custody while getting a divorce in Arizona, it's not enough just to shake hands and agree to raise the child together. State law mandates that even parents who are on good terms must put together a legal parenting plan and then sign it, giving them a formal agreement on how they will raise that child.

These parenting plans are often used to head off potential issues down the road. For instance, you may have questions like:

-- Where will the child go on the holidays?-- What religion will the child be raised in?-- Where will the child go to school?-- How will health care issues be handled?

Often, these are things that parents have trouble thinking of up front, even though they can result in arguments and disagreements later. For example, if your child is under a year old, you're probably not yet thinking about where he or she will go to high school, but this becomes a huge deal in 14 years. Parenting plans help parents to identify these things early and agree on things so that there are not disputes down the line.

While you may not feel that it is ideal to sit down with your partner and draft a plan -- especially if you're not on good terms -- this is actually much easier than dealing with these issues years later. Plus, the courts make it mandatory for joint custody situations, so refusal could mean you don't get custody. Make sure you know what a plan legally has to include and what things cannot be addressed.

Source: FIndLaw, "Arizona Child Custody: Overview," accessed Sep. 17, 2015

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