When a couple with children separates or divorces, one priority is the creation of a parenting plan. Parenting plans set out rights and obligations regarding the day-to-day care of the children and can also establish rules for communication between the parents. As family law matters can involve high-conflict circumstances, these plans aim to be as comprehensive and detailed as possible to avoid disagreements. Some important considerations for the creation of a parenting plan are set out below.
1. The Best Interests of the Child Always Come First
The best interests of the child are always paramount in family matters involving children. Courts may invalidate a parenting plan if it does not properly consider a child’s best interests. The parenting plan must show that the child’s basic needs have been provided for, including their physical and emotional wellbeing and their education.
Avoiding conflict as much as possible is also in the child’s best interests. As a result, parenting plans consider the parents’ ability to communicate and decide important issues relating to the children. If parents cannot resolve matters themselves, the plan will address the provision of decision-making power in order to avoid further disagreement.
2. Identify the Important Issues
Two of the most substantial topics in a parenting plan are parenting time and decision-making abilities. Parenting time sets out how much time the child spends with each parent, including drop-off and pick-up schedules. Decision-making ability is a parent’s authority to make important decisions about the child, including education, religion, discipline, extracurricular activities, travel, and medical decisions.
Parenting plans can also address access arrangements between the child and their extended family. Terms can also be set regarding when a child can be introduced to a parent’s new partner.
3. Put Your Parenting Plan in Writing
A written parenting plan acts as an ongoing reference document and clearly sets out the parents’ rights and responsibilities. Having the plan in writing helps avoid misunderstandings and disputes about the terms agreed to between the parties. It can help resolve disagreements without the cost and time involved in a litigation process. If issues do proceed to court, it can also be essential as evidence of the parents’ intentions and agreements.
4. Decide How to Address Disagreements
When writing a parenting plan, parents should consider how to resolve conflicts that arise between them. Separately sharing the responsibility of parenting children can cause many types of disagreements, and parenting plans aim to resolve these disputes. If the parents cannot reach an agreement on their own, the plan can require them to participate in a conflict resolution process with a neutral third party who renders a final decision.
Alternative Dispute Resolution processes can also assist in the creation of the parenting plan where there is ongoing conflict between the parents. The use of a third party, such as a mediator, can help focus the parties and maintain respectful communication. The most appropriate process depends on the circumstances of the family, but can include mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law practices.
5. Establish Rules for Communication
Parties who share the responsibility for parenting a child cannot avoid communicating with one another. In drafting a parenting plan, parents should set guidelines for what information needs to be shared with each other, and the method of communication. In some situations, communicating in writing, such as through text or email, as the resulting record can clarify issues if confusion arises. The parents can also stipulate that they will not communicate with each other through the child.
6. Determine How to Modify the Parenting Plan
Children’s needs change as they grow, and parents’ work or family situations vary over time. As a result, parenting plans will sometimes need to be adapted to reflect changes in the child’s life or the family dynamic. Parents should consider setting terms as to when and how the plan will need to be modified. Additionally, the plan can include a requirement for regular re-assessment by the parties to ensure it remains current and continues to consider the best interests of the child.
Bortolussi Family Law in Vaughan Can Help You Create the Right Parenting Plan
The dedicated lawyers at Bortolussi Family Law can help ensure your parenting plan is comprehensive and clearly sets out all rights and responsibilities for the day-to-day parenting of your child. Ensuring both parties have independent legal advice can prevent a parenting plan from being invalidated in court in the future.
We can help you negotiate the terms of your parenting plan from the outset or can represent your interests if your parenting plan is challenged in court. Contact us at 416-987-3300 or online for a consultation regarding your parenting plan or any other family law matter.