When parents are not married, there are often times when, at the beginning of their child’s life, they get along well. They are both reveling in being new parents and in sharing that experience, even if they are no longer a couple. The agreements between the parents for making decisions for the child (including doctors, vaccinations, daycare, and school) are just that: agreements. They are not enforceable. They are not something you can hold over the other person; it’s simply two people getting along.
But often there comes a time, as with any couple, where the parents may have different ideas about raising the child, or one parent becomes involved with someone the other person doesn’t think is a good influence on the child, or a number of other possibilities, and then the good feelings toward each other fade and conflict arises. It’s at that point a parent may seek the advice of an attorney on how to come to an enforceable agreement on legal and physical custody of the child—how to make decisions for the child and where the child will live on a daily basis. But having these discussions when you are not getting along is often not the best time to seek the advice of an attorney.
The better option is to talk to an attorney when you are getting along, when you have agreements you two have reached and are following them. Generating a parenting plan when people are in agreement is significantly easier, and more cost-effective, than litigating these issues against each other. That’s not to say that the agreements you reach when you are getting along may not be modified over time, either because of the changing needs of the child or the circumstances of a parent, but it does mean that the place you are starting from is one where both parents feel comfortable with the decisions that have been made at the start.
After your “official” plan becomes a court order, you and the other parent can still agree on changes informally (“Can you watch little Bosley on Wednesday; I’ve got a class?” “Sure. Let’s switch with Thursday.”). But you’ll have the protection of a court order when things don’t go so well.