Join us as we sit down with Attorney, Sabrina Owen, to discuss tried and true attorney tips on how to create the most effective visitation and parenting plan schedules that will stand the test of time, reduce conflict, and set your child up for success. In this interview, Sabrina and Steve discuss the following:
• Why it’s important that your parenting plan is created with your child’s best interest in mind
• Understanding pros and cons to common parenting plan blocks and rotations
• Considering holidays, vacations and birthdays when creating your parenting plan
• Tactical ways to look ahead and predict scheduling needs as your child ages
• Programs that help facilitate healthy co-parenting relationships amidst shared parenting time
• Understanding the relationship between parenting time and finances
• ...and much more!
If you would like to speak with one of our family law attorneys, please call our office at (503) 227-0200, or visit our website at https://www.landerholmlaw.com.
Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.
Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.
Steve Altishin 0:31
Hi, everyone. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client Partnerships here at Pacific Cascade Family Law, and we're here today with Attorney Sabrina Owen to talk about creating a parenting plan that is designed for long term success. So how're you doing today, Sabrina?
Sabrina Owen 0:50
I'm great, Steve, how are you?
Steve Altishin 0:52
I'm doing well, thank you. Before we get started, I'm hoping maybe we can talk just for a minute, and you can give us a brief explanation on really just what a parenting plan is.
Sabrina Owen 1:03
A parenting plan is really a rulebook for two parents who are no longer in the same household that determines when each parent is responsible for the care and control of the children. A lot of times it's called a visitation plan, we've progressed in our vernacular and started calling them parenting plans. Because you know, dads don't babysit, they parent. They don't get visitation, they have parenting time.
Steve Altishin 1:37
Does every divorce with kids have a parenting plan?
Sabrina Owen 1:42
If you have children, you should. I do see some--especially cases that the parties have done it themselves, and that clearly are not working anymore and they're coming in for a modification--that don't have very specific or detailed parenting plans. And then you essentially don't have one. I do see the judge assigning them, but that creates long term litigation and problems in the future. It's better just to handle it from the beginning.
Steve Altishin 2:12
And that leads right into what we're going to talk about today. So I want to start with the basic concept that, you know, I think rules pretty much everything courts require regarding children, and that's the need to act in the child's best interest. Can you give us some ideas on how to keep that as a first priority?
Sabrina Owen 2:36
I think as long as parents are focused on their children and the needs of their children and understanding that it is important for children to have contact with both of their parents, unless, of course, there is some sort of detrimental behavior by one parent. It is in their children's best interest to have consistent contact with with both parents. Lots of studies have shown that both parents being involved, whether they're married or in the same household, helps with development, helps with education, and just helps people be well rounded individuals. So a lot of times people need to put their differences with their former spouse, or former partner, aside and focus on what's best for their kid. I say a lot, it's not about winning or losing. It's not about winning or losing. And sometimes, you need to love your child and understand the needs of your child more than you hate your ex.
Steve Altishin 3:40
Do you generally find that they're better if they're more complete or even complicated? Should there be flexibility in them? How should they do it?
Sabrina Owen 3:53
Yes, and yes. There should definitely be flexibility in it, especially considering the age of the children, because a parenting plan that works for a six year old doesn't work for a 16 year old. And that is one of the things that you need to do in order to keep the best interest of your children in the forefront. When they have activities that they need to go to and that's on somebody's parenting time, you need to consider all of these things. I find that the most helpful parenting plans are the ones that are the most detailed, that have a clause in them that say if the parties agree, they can modify it. You know, if they agree in writing, they can modify it one time or they can modify it permanently if they do a notarized writing. But the more detail you have in your parenting plan, the less confusion there is down the road when there inevitably is a disagreement, because it's gonna happen.
Steve Altishin 4:56
That makes total sense. So are you including things not just as, like, hours or days, but I mean, do you include things like food, clothing, shelter, mobility, that kind of thing, or maybe even special needs, emotional needs? Do they figure into a parenting plan at all?
Sabrina Owen 5:05
They can, it depends on the needs of the child. I think when you're creating a parenting plan, with the parents, as an attorney, you need to take into consideration the needs of that particular child or that particular group of children. If there are children that have educational needs and need tutoring, you need to make sure that you have in your parenting plan, that whoever has the children for that time, needs to take the children to their tutoring, or their therapy. I put in extracurriculars down to, you know, who gets to pick the extracurriculars? How many extracurriculars can be scheduled on the other parents time, and when a parent is obligated to take the child to practice. So you know, if parents can't agree on extracurricular activities, then it's usually the custodial parent gets to pick one activity where the child's schedule is made by a third party, whether that be football or play practice, or band. And then the other parent needs to take that child to those practices and then understand that there are circumstances where a child can't go, and that should be the rare exception. Because it takes care of arguments. Now if parents can agree, and a child is very involved in doing gymnastics, and dance and play practice, and all these things, and the parents can agree on it ad they're both willing to take the child to all of these activities on their time, great, do that. Please do that for your children. But in the event that you can't, these are the minimum rules you are going to live by.
Steve Altishin 6:38
It sounds like you're saying, you know, certainty can be a good thing. And confusion is generally always a bad thing.
Sabrina Owen 7:16
Absolutely, absolutely. And, you know, needs can change. And you can always try to modify, but it is my goal that parents get along and want to do what their child needs done and be flexible in their parenting time, depending on the current circumstances. But in the event that you can't get along, and you can't agree, you have a decent plan, where if one parent just is digging their heels in, and they say, 'No, we're gonna follow this plan', and if it's not working for the child somehow, then you need a modification. But at the end of the day, the plan you have is still a decent plan while you go through that modification process.
Steve Altishin 8:03
What about the big decisions, you know, sort of medical care, where you're going to live, religious care, those kind of things? It seems like sometimes both co-parents make them, sometimes together, sometimes not. I mean, where should divorcing couples start to think how they start working on how to figure that out?
Sabrina Owen 8:29
So that actually leads to custody. There are two different things. So you have your parenting time, and you have your custody, and custody determines who gets to make those decisions. And in Oregon, one or the other has custody of the child and can make those decisions unless the parties agree to have joint custody. There are ways that you can sort of futz with that and give custody to one person but require that they give advanced consultation on major decisions to the other party and give due deference to their opinion, but in the event that a couple can't-- sorry, there's a helicopter outside my house right now-- um, in the event that they can't agree on a major decision, one parent has to have the tiebreaker.
Steve Altishin 9:27
Yeah, I mean, someone has to, at the end of the day, make a decision for the kids. I get that. So, over time, can this change? I mean, is there also a factor about that? I'm thinking on education. If the parent with custody has the right to really make some major decisions about the child's education, how far does that go? Is taking an event or a sport, or extracurricular activity, or extra classes, are those generally considered custody issues or parenting time issues?
Sabrina Owen 10:13
That depends. Do those decisions impact the other parents parenting time? So just because you have custody and you get to make those decisions, doesn't mean that you get to just unilaterally schedule your child for tutoring or for therapy only on the other parents time. So they're responsible for taking them there, and they're responsible for you know, and they lose out on their parenting time because of this decision, which is why a parenting plan that addresses that is so important, because you limit the ability of the parent who has custody and final decision making to fit within specific parameters that allows less abuse of that power.
Steve Altishin 10:44
What about emergencies? Is there anything in parenting plans about that?
Sabrina Owen 11:08
Yes, we have communication requirements for emergencies. I usually have in my parenting plans a clause, you know, they will communicate via text message. So that constitutes in writing so everybody's clear. Or sometimes through an app, I'm particularly fond of Our Family Wizard, except in the case of an emergency, when phone calls may be necessary. And that a parent in the case of an emergency must make reasonable efforts to contact the other parent, as soon as the emergent situation is taken care of. I mean, clearly, I don't want to create a situation where you know, Mom's gonna be in violation of a parenting plan if she doesn't call dad until they actually get to the hospital, because a child is bleeding out on the street. Like, you know, you have to get the emergent situation handled, but then the immediate thing you need to do after that is contact the other parent. I've had parenting plans where we've actually gotten down to end of life decisions and saying, like, a child may not be removed from life support until the other parent is there and present.
Steve Altishin 12:18
So all of these things you talk about actually, you recommend, you put them into the plan itself sort of to prepare early for this?
Sabrina Owen 12:26
Absolutely. I think the more particular your parenting plan is, the better off you are, because it leads to less confusion in the future. When you have every other weekend, and one night a week, well okay, is that overnight? Does that start after school? Does that start at six o'clock? Does that-'Well, we've always just done it from six o'clock on Friday to six o'clock on Sunday'. That's great, that's what you've always done, but what happens when the custodial parent doesn't want to give the child over at six o'clock, or, you know, the noncustodial parent chooses to take them to school on Monday, instead of returning them on Sunday night? Just, the more you have in there, the less opportunity there is for confusion, and for one parent to feel like they're being taken advantage of by the other parents.
Steve Altishin 13:28
I imagine that that is a large issue that kind of rears its head with the whole concept of parenting time and creating parenting time that works.
Sabrina Owen 13:44
Especially when you've had a very tumultuous relationship between the parents beforehand. There are a lot of relationships that have some variety of abuse in them, physical abuse or mental abuse. And part of breaking out of that cycle is not wanting that other person to have control over your decisions, or to have control over your time. And so a lot of times I find in those situations, the conversation is more about what the other parent is doing and what they get to do. 'They don't get to tell me what to do. I don't care if this is okay for the child, they've made this decision and I don't want to do it for them'. So when you take them out of it, you take the 'they' out of it and it's just the piece of paper, it's much, much easier to just lean back and say, 'I respect your opinion. I understand that. This is what the paper says. So this is what we're going to do'.
Steve Altishin 14:50
Totally makes sense. If it's not written down beforehand, you're just asking for trouble. So that kind of leads into anticipating ahead, I guess. And so, you know, one of the things I I hear a lot about is, well, this worked great when the kids were in kindergarten, but now they're in eighth grade. Can parenting plans be proactive and actually sort of anticipate some of this stuff?
Sabrina Owen 15:26
Absolutely. And actually, a lot of the standard parenting plans or model parenting plans throughout different counties in Oregon do anticipate that. They have parenting plans for like zero to two and two to six, and six and over. You have less changing and less need adapting when your children are older. If you have started your process in your parenting plan, when your children are in full day school, that plan is probably going to take you through them graduating from high school, because it's a routine that they know. But especially with very small children, they change very quickly, and you can build those in. A lot of studies and a lot of parenting coordinators and child development people will tell you that more frequent contact is more important when children are young. So that's when you will see more of a 2-2-3 sort of schedule; two days with Mom, two days with Dad, weekend with Mom, then two days with Dad, two days with Mom, weekend with Dad, because you have more frequent contact during those very important, bond-creating times. But when a child goes to school, especially full day school, first grade, you know, sometimes we'll do it around kindergarten, but a lot of times we wait until first grade, those 2-2-3s are very disruptive. That's a very-- it's a lot of back and forth. It's a lot of exchanges. So that's about the time, if you're having an equal parenting time situation, where you would want to transition from a 2-2-3 to a week on week off.
Steve Altishin 17:10
So you don't have to wait to agree. You don't have to wait for it to happen, and then try to agree, when you may not be in an agreeable mood at that point.
Sabrina Owen 17:21
Exactly. And so then your child is stuck in this, 'Well we have to do the 2-2-3', when it's not working, it's very disruptive to school, and then you've got to go through another bout of litigation in order to get things hammered out. And if you're at that point, and you're not agreeing, you're probably going to end up getting a parenting coordinator involved. There's definitely going to be a therapist. I mean, you're in for a lot of attorneys fees if you don't think of these things beforehand.
Steve Altishin 17:54
So do you have some tips for maybe instances that don't always occur? Let's say. what if there's a fair amount of distance between the parents homes? Is there anything they can do about that, or ways to adjust?
Sabrina Owen 18:10
There is. So Oregon has rules about how far you can move and notification requirements. But if one of you, even from the beginning, lives a further distance away, then a standard parenting plan where you do, you know, a week on week off, or an every other weekend and one evening during the week, it isn't going to work. The child needs to go to school, they have extracurricular activities, they have friends they want to be around. So to adjust for that, what's typically done is the longer stretches of time. The noncustodial parent will get all of the long weekends from school. There's usually Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday. There's Labor Day, there's you know, teacher workdays. So the non-custodial parent, or the parent that lives further away, gets those long weekends, they get a majority of the summer. And a lot of times all of spring break, but you're still switching off Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Steve Altishin 19:14
And all of these you can put in the plan right off the bat?
Sabrina Owen 19:17
All of that you can put in the plan right off the bat, especially if that move is anticipated. Um, if it's not, then you're going to need to do a modification. Hopefully you've got enough notice that you can get a parenting plan in place that is modified and does the long distance before you leave, before you relocate, and Oregon's standard parenting plans also have recommendations per county of close distance and long distance parenting plans.
Steve Altishin 19:54
Yeah. You gave some examples of some different times schedules that the kids are with. Does Oregon require a percentage? I mean, is 50/50 split something that's required? Is it something that's just sort of a goal? Because it sounds like the things you were talking about end up sort of being in that 50/50 split thing. But does that happen all the time?
Sabrina Owen 20:21
It does not happen all the time. And there's a lot of situations or reasons that it doesn't happen all the time. Sometimes it's work schedule, it just can't be accommodated. Sometimes there are issues with one parent or the other. Sometimes, it's just what the parties decide. I mean, sort of standard visitations since, I don't know, the 80's, has been every other weekend. So like Friday, at six o'clock to Sunday at six o'clock, and then a dinner on your off week. That doesn't give the non-custodial parent a whole lot of time. It also doesn't give the non-custodial parent a whole lot of responsibility. And that has become a major point of contention for a lot of divorcing parents, because somebody gets to be Disneyland Dad, and somebody always has to be the Rule Enforcer.
Steve Altishin 21:19
You see that all of the time.
Sabrina Owen 21:22
So somebody who's got a, you know, custodial parent--and I'm old enough that I default to mom on that alot of times, and that's not necessarily right, ever, and especially these days--but the custodial parent is the one that has to do all of the homework and all of the grounding, and all of the not fun stuff. So when you switch from an, 'every other weekend, and one week night on your off week', to something a little more balanced, like your weekend starts on Thursday, and they end when the kids returned to school on Monday, that does a couple things: the noncustodial parent gets two extra overnight, so we've got extra time, and then they'll have to make sure they're responsible for the homework on Friday and on Sunday.
Steve Altishin 22:21
Those are the things that I think people don't think about: planning for homework, working with the kid, you know, fulfilling their needs. Because isn't it both parents responsibility, no matter who gets custody, to raise their kid?
Sabrina Owen 22:36
Yes, yes. And that goes back to that, you know, when mom's out to brunch, who's watching the kids? Or if moms at work, who's watching the kids? Um, Dad, and he's not babysitting, he's got his children. And that's been a big conversation, especially in mom's circles lately. So if you can set that up ahead of time, and typically what I do is a Thursday to Monday, and on off week, Thursday nights. And what that does is it gives the children consistency to know that every Thursday night, I'm with the noncustodial parent, and then every other weekend.
Steve Altishin 23:18
Okay, you briefly mentioned it, but wow, the hot button that seems to happen is holidays. And I've done a couple of Facebook Lives with with some counselors, and it's a disaster in a lot of families, it causes all kinds of problems. So any tips on how you work the holidays?
Sabrina Owen 23:44
I limit holidays. So the major holidays that I like to focus on are spring break, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and summer. That's it. Every other holiday falls where it falls. Birthdays fall where they fall; be grownups and figure it out. I know a lot of the parenting plans around here really get down to Memorial Day and Labor Day and Fourth of July and Halloween. And I feel like that's too much because then your holiday plan supersedes and interrupts your regular parenting time. So that takes away from the consistency and the routine of the children, and we all know how important routine is for children.
Steve Altishin 24:32
I agree. This year 2021 was funny because with a Saturday Sunday being Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, there became issues where sometimes parents didn't see their kid for three weeks.
Sabrina Owen 24:50
Yeah, yeah. And that can be hard, and there's ways that you can adjust for that, but sometimes that's just going to happen, especially with holidays and the way they fall. But understand that through the course of your child's life, that's going to happen for the other parents a couple times, it's also going to happen for you a couple times. So having a long term vision on those sorts of things is very important. Instead of just going, 'This year wasn't fair,' like, okay, it's not fair all the time. But we do the best we can. And sometimes there are unforeseen consequences to that. And sometimes it is a break. Now you can put in a provision that says if the holiday schedule ends up being such that a parent wont see the child for three weeks, then midway point through that week, the parent that doesn't have the children shall have their children for two or three nights. I mean, you can make something like that. It's just, it's such a rare occurrence. I rarely do that.
Steve Altishin 26:01
It sounds like you also do rely on ongoing communication, it's required. No matter how much parents hate each other, it's something that just, it feels to me like it is a necessity that this has to happen.
Sabrina Owen 26:20
It is. You do have to communicate with the other parent. Sometimes that is not easy to do. And we recognize that, and so that's why there's lovely programs like Our Family Wizard--I'm not a sponsor--that helps with those sorts of communications. That's why any changes in the parenting plan need to be put in writing. And we can say email or text message count for that, unless you're a family that needs to be on Our Family Wizard. But the need for communication and changing things diminishes greatly the more detailed your parenting plans are, because it takes away the confusion and it gives you rules. So yes, you should always be communicating, you should always be asking these things. But if you come to a point where you cannot agree, then you've got this parenting plan that tells you what the rules are.
Steve Altishin 27:20
I like it. Circling back for a second, you said that there are some programs out there that you can use. Do they incorporate lke even a text or emails? Or are there ways to kind of, I guess, gather information and have it stored somewhere?
Sabrina Owen 27:40
Yes So the one I'm most familiar with, I've mentioned a couple times, is Our Family Wizard. I think there's another one called Two Houses. And these programs are apps on your phone, they have a messaging system. What I really like about this messaging system is that it is controlled by a third party. And I can, as an attorney, get access and download all of the communications. And they track when the conversation was started. So when the email chain was started, when it was seen by the other party, when it was responded to by the other party. So there's none of this, 'Oh, I didn't see your message'. No, it was opened at this time. So it tracks those sorts of communications. And it makes it very easy to track. And because it's controlled by a third party, I can use it in court, because I can verify better than an email. That particular program also has a calendar that you can color coordinate. So both people are on and you know who has which evenings. It helps with, I have families that go through at the beginning of the year, and they sit down and they plug in what weekends are moms and what weekends are dads and what holidays, and then they can start working around if there's any issues or any confusion. They can start doing that. And then they have a color coordinated calendar for the whole year. Then it also has a reimbursement aspect where if you know there's uncovered medical expenses or something like that, you can go through this app and request it and then mark it as paid once that's done.
Steve Altishin 29:27
We always run out of time, we're running out of time now, but really, really briefly, one thing I'd like to talk about is, is there any way you can tackle some of the cost sharing issues that arise? I know that there's child's support and all of that, but it seems invariably, something will come up and it's going to cost, and one parent says, 'You pay.' and the other parent says, 'No you pay'.
Sabrina Owen 29:58
Yeah. So typically, as we've talked about with extracurricular activities, and the custodial parent being able to pick one activity where the schedule is made by a third party, that's usually covered by child support, extracurriculars are included. Any agreed upon extracurricular activities are split 50/50. But this all has to be in your agreement in this way in order for it to work this way. Otherwise, it's just a free for all and everybody's pointing the finger and saying you pay, no you pay. But typically, you know, your school related extracurricular activity is covered by child support. If there are activities that mom and dad agree on, those are split 50/50. Uncovered healthcare expenses are split 50/50. That can go down to clothes, and other school fees, and then you have a reimbursement clause that says reimbursements must be requested within 30 days of receiving or incurring the cost, and then must be paid within 30 days of the reimbursement request. If you do not request within that 30 days, you have waived your right to reimbursement of that cost. Again, that has to be in your parenting plan. And then there's also, I usually put in something that if one parent's obligation is going to be more than $250, say for like orthodontia, they can create a payment plan with the provider, so long as they pay on time such that the child's treatment is not interrupted.
Steve Altishin 31:44
I love that. It just makes complete sense that, you know, you don't know what the costs are going to be, but that doesn't mean you can't try to plan for them.
Sabrina Owen 31:55
Yeah. And kids are expensive.
Steve Altishin 31:57
Yeah, yeah. And again, last question then... goals. You know, parents always set goals, and it's good to set goals. But I imagine that over the years, those goals can be challenged. What do you tell a parent who says, 'Well, do I have to change my goals? Or should I change my goals?' How does that kind of fit into the whole parenting plan?
Sabrina Owen 32:26
Well, if we're talking about parenting plans, and my first question is, why is this in the best interest of your child? Because if we're creating a first parenting plan, then we want to make sure that we cover all of the bases and do what's in the best interest of your child. If your goals are changed, or something has changed, then the courts going to look and their standard is best interests of the child. So explain to me why what you want is in the best interest of your child.
Steve Altishin 32:56
It really seem,s at the end of the day, that this is not one of those cases where it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Sabrina Owen 33:04
Oh, golly, no. Let's communicate early and often, and get a parenting plan that is very clear. Because you never know what's gonna come up. You guys are great, and everybody's Kumbaya and everybody's happy until mom gets a boyfriend. Dad doesn't like him. And now nobody's agreeing to anything and you've got zero rules. We're in the wild, wild west, and now you have to, on top of all of this other angst, get attorneys involved.
Steve Altishin 33:34
Yeah. So apparently parenting plans save money!
Sabrina Owen 33:37
Oh they do, they absolutely do. My goal is to touch a family once. Unless there is some sort of emergency or somebody has had something awful happen, my goal is to touch a family once. I want your parenting plan to take you from where you are now until your child is out of your home and no longer a minor, and you do not have to come see me again.
Steve Altishin 34:03
That is wonderful advice. Sabrina, thank you so much for being here today.
Sabrina Owen 34:08
Thanks for having me.
Steve Altishin 34:09
You've given a great look, and you've made it understandable. And that's not always easy with such legal issues and, you know, legal responsibilities, but you did. So thank you very, very much. Thank you. And everyone else, thank you for joining us again today. If anyone has any further questions on today's topic, you can obviously post them here, and we can get you connected with Sabrina. And until next time, stay safe, stay happy, and we'll see you next time.
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