What is a Parenting Plan?

Caring for Children After Divorce

What is a Parenting Plan, and What is its Purpose?

A parenting plan is a formal, written agreement between parents that defines how their children will be co-parented and raised after they have separated. A parenting plan doesn’t have to include legal terms, although the agreement will address legal concepts including “custody” and “access” and “parenting arrangements” and can be included in a marital separation agreement or a final order for divorce.

What are the Benefits of a Parenting Plan?

While separated or divorced parents are not required to create a formalized parenting plan, there are many benefits to doing so. The process of creating the plan will naturally lead both parents to consider different scenarios and how they will respond to them in advance, which can reduce future tension and ensure the best interests of their children are protected. Family law trials are notoriously damaging to a family’s emotional health, while judicial determination of parenting arrangements can be unpredictable. Litigation of family matters is therefore best avoided wherever possible. An effective parenting plan can reduce the likelihood that the parties will end up in court.

How do I create a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan should be provide structure, while remaining flexible enough to accommodate the normal challenges of day-to-day life. When parents are not in conflict, a parenting plan can be less rigid, allowing for ongoing decision-making and flexibility within the general structure of the plan. In situations where a separation is acrimonious, it is generally best to define each parent’s responsibilities clearly so that opportunities for ongoing conflict are reduced. A parenting plan can be created without professional guidance where there is agreement, and where parents cannot agree assistance can be provided by lawyers, mediators, social workers and counselors.

What should be included in the Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan should set out how parenting issues are dealt with, and should at minimum address the following:

1. Living arrangements and parenting schedules

  • Will parenting be shared, or will the child live primarily with one parent?
  • How will pick-ups and drop-offs be choreographed?
  • Is child care needed, and if so, what arrangements will be made?
  • Where will the child’s belongings be kept, or will there be duplicates kept with each parent?
  • How will the child’s social life and extra-curricular activities be facilitated?

2. Communication between parents regarding the child

  • Will communication be through phone, email, or another method?

3. Vacation, holidays and special days

  • During holidays will the child stay with either parent on alternating years, or will each holiday be split or shared?
  • What arrangements will be made for school summer holidays?
  • When the child travels, should notice be given and should permission be provided by either parent?
  • What arrangements will be made for birthdays, weddings, and other significant days?

4. Heath care

  • How will decisions about non-emergency medical treatments be made?
  • What procedures will be followed if there is a medical emergency?
  • How will medical insurance be dealt with, and will both parents share access to medical records?

5. Education

  • Where will the child go so school?
  • How will ongoing decisions about the child’s education be made?

6. Extra-curricular activities

  • Which activities will the child be involved in, and how will these activities be financed?
  • How will the parents facilitate the child’s participation and address basic safety requirements?

7. Religion and culture

  • Will the child be raised with a specific religion or cultural identity?

8. Discipline and lifestyle expectations

  • Should common rules be established regarding bedtimes, diet and nutrition, homework, allowance, use of social media, dating, etc.?

9. Child with special needs

  • What arrangements will be made for the child’s needs, and how will decisions relating to the child’s ongoing care and assistance be made?

10. Process for making changes to, and method for resolving disagreements regarding the parenting plan

At FC&Z Family Lawyers, we are passionate about encouraging effective and successful co-parenting. We can help you develop a sensitive and intelligent parenting plan that fits your family’s specific needs. Call to arrange a free, 15 minute consultation with an experienced family lawyer in Vancouver or Calgary.

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