Author: Don Schapira, Q.Med.
Creating a Parenting Plan
One of the most difficult aspects of separation and divorce is coming to agreement on a parenting plan that makes sense. Below we will try to help you navigate some of the questions you need answered so you can build a Parenting Plan that meets your needs, your co-parents needs, and most importantly, your child’s needs.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A Parenting Plan is a written agreement made by parents who are in the process of separating or divorcing over how to co-parent their children during and after the breakup.
The Parenting Plan is a point of reference, a template that can be referred to, added to, revised and updated in whatever ways are needed as your children grow and develop and as your family circumstances change.
A Parenting Plan puts on record the fact that one key area of your relationship is not ending, despite your separation or divorce – your role as parents to the children.
Do we need a Parenting Plan?
Understanding what your children are going through can be difficult when you are struggling to make sense of your own feelings and when you have so much else to think about. A Parenting Plan can help set priorities and give structure for onward life – however uncertain at the time.
Parenting your children won’t wait – they are watching now for how you cope and what you do, making assumptions about how life will be and what kind of a relationship they will have with you both in the new world. You are determining their safety, security and sense of confidence in the future.
Answering the two questions below can help you gain perspective on how to make your plan, how it meets your needs, your spouses needs, and most importantly, your children’s needs.
- What do your children need to thrive and be happy?
- How are you going to parent your children – are you each going to have your own rules when you see the children and parent independently. Or, are you going to parent with a common set of rules?
There is no right or wrong answer. Sometimes, what you would like to do and what is possible because of your relationship are two different things.
Children thrive on the kind of dependable order that only we as parents can provide them. Getting the basic arrangements in place quickly is an important step that parents can take to minimize the long-term impact on children and help the process of healthy recovery.
There are many different contact patterns you can choose for your family. You should agree on a pattern that works for your children at the age they are now and be prepared to change to a different pattern as they get older.
Ask for the children’s feedback but be clear you are the adults and you will make the the final decision. Beware of asking them too much, what they want – they potentially do not know, or it will not be possible…then your asking will seem insincere to them.
Vacations and Holidays
You will need to think about how you will pay for holiday, camp or additional childcare and how you will cope with the shortened hours they often provide. The difference between parenting and co-parenting is that now, you are each expected to take responsibility for organizing childcare for half the holidays (or at the very least when you have parenting time), it shouldn’t just fall to one parent (as it may have done in the past).
If one of you has a part-time contract, works fewer hours or does not work, you may decide it makes sense for that parent to take more responsibility for the children during the holidays. If this is the case, you may consider it appropriate for the other parent to make additional financial contributions over the longer holiday periods.
Health & Education
Your child’s heath and well-being will always be important to both of you. You will need to consider not only your child’s physical health but also their mental health. This can sometimes cause problems because parents are often less well informed about how to access support and what, or whether, support is needed.
School is a major part of your children’s lives and a central pillar providing structure and social support, as well as academic opportunity.
When you and their other parent separate, school may become particularly essential as a source of continuity and stability for your children. Your children may wish to keep your separation a secret from school, but it’s actually very important that the administration and teachers know what’s going on so they can keep an eye on your children’s welfare and spot any worrying changes in their behavior or performance. Because school is such a major part of your children’s lives, it is vital that you both show a keen and curious interest in what they do there and how they feel about it. Avoid only one parent “dealing” with the school.
Parental responsibility, values, beliefs and behaviors
Day-to-day parenting decisions will be made by the person looking after their child at that time; they do not necessarily have to be agreed with the other parent. This does not mean parents should not discuss what they think is appropriate on a day-to-day basis. It is helpful if as parents you can agree on how to tackle issues such as discipline, bedtimes, and homework, but if you don’t agree on these things then neither of you can force the issue with the other.
Couple-parenting is completely different to co-parenting. Nobody tells you this when you separate or divorce, and yet you are often making huge decisions in new uncharted waters and without the proverbial paddle – it is scary stuff. Putting children first as you separate requires different parenting skills.
Achieving your Fresh Start
In order to navigate the often complicated process and questions that need be answered, at Fresh Start Mediation we have created a downloadable guide that ensures you have a complete plan that can stand the test of time.
This blog has helped you understand some, certainly not all, of the questions and issues parents need to consider as you create, negotiate and complete a Parenting Plan. If you have any questions, be sure to give us a call at 403.863.9700 for a free one-hour consult with one of our mediators.
Government Parenting Plan Checklist – Link
Creating a Parenting Plan – Link
Parenting After Separation (PAS) Course – Link
CoParenter app – Link
Fresh Start Mediation – Link