A parenting plan is a written document that outlines how parents will continue to raise their children after divorce. It assists in minimizing conflict between ex-spouses by setting out clear guidelines and expectations. It doesn't have a particular format or length as that will depend on your situation. You can reference the Parenting Plan Checklist below to get a sense of the key considerations that arise when developing your parenting plan.
Put Your Children First
When creating a parenting plan, always ensure that your children’s best interests are kept in mind. Your children will need security, stability and nurturing from you during this challenging time. Keep them informed about what will change and address their worries. Your children will likely have many questions. Actively listen to what they have to say. Is there an underlying emotional purpose behind it? Think about how your answer can ensure you are empathetic and honest without oversharing.
It is okay to admit that you do not know the answer to a question if that is the case. However, your response should indicate that it is something you and your Ex are still figuring out, and that you will let them know when you do. Keeping the dialogue open will show your children that you respect their feelings and take them into consideration when making decisions that influence your family.
Read our previous blog about Talking to Your Children About Divorce to learn more.
Your separation agreement will impact your parenting plan. While it is not necessary to have a separation agreement to be legally separated, having one can help protect you, your children and your assets. You separation agreement is assigned to you by a judge, or it can be composed by you and your spouse.
If you don’t have a separation agreement for your uncontested divorce, start one here.
The type of custody arrangement outlined in your separation agreement details the living arrangement and visitation schedule of your children. Child custody can take several forms. These are the most common:
Joint custody is an arrangement where both parents have input into all major decisions affecting the children. These decisions can include health, activities, schooling, and travel. In order to create a joint custody arrangement the children should split their time between the parents at minimum 60% with one parent and 40% with the other. To get different ideas on joint custody scheduling possibilities, read our past blog:
Sole custody means only one parent has primary care of the children. It is legally defined as a situation where the children live with one parent more than 60% of the time. In a sole custody situation the non custodial parent may still have equal input on important decisions.
Split custody is a less common arrangement where one child lives with one parent while another child lives with the other, both in sole custody arrangements. This arrangement can be particularly detrimental to the children's experience.
An integral part of a parenting arrangement is who will make important decisions about the children. These decisions may be regarding: Health Care, Education, Religion, Culture and other key life choices considered in our parenting plan checklist above.
There are several ways to approach the division of decision-making responsibilities:
- Joint decision-making: both parents consult each other in order to make decisions together
- Sole decision-making: one parent is responsible for making all decisions
- Parallel decision-making: each parent is responsible for specific types of decisions
If you and your ex-spouse are able to cooperate well with each other on parenting issues, joint decision-making may be a good option for you. It is recommended that you approach joint-decision making with your partner with an amicable attitude. Promoting stability and consistency in a tumultuous time helps everyone to adjust more quickly.
Making Changes To Parenting Plan & Solving Problems:
Your parenting plan should be flexible enough as to allow room for changes and improvements. The realities of executing a plan are almost never fully realized when putting it together. Afterall, hindsight is 20/20. To account for this, your original parenting plan should include an outlined process for making changes to the plan. This can be a formal or informal process depending on you and your former spouse’s ability to cooperate.
If you both cannot agree on parenting arrangements, you can get help for mediators, counsellors and accounts to suss out the details. As well, there are provincial parent information programs for divorcing parents. To see a list of these services, go to the “Family Justice Services” page of Justice Canada’s website.
The above checklist is not comprehensive. It offers several considerations but should be used mainly as a starting point. Use your own judgement to guide you when drafting a parenting plan that is detailed, flexible and realistic. Every situation is unique and you know your children best. Consider the ages of your children and the level of engagement you’d like to maintain with your ex-spouse.
For further details check out the Government of Canada's Parenting Plan Checklist and Guide to Parenting Arrangements After Separation or Divorce.
To learn about Co-Parenting, read our past blog entitled How to Survive Co-Parenting.