Whether a woman is preparing her parenting plan during or after her court case, the basic principles remain the same.
This is the first of two blog posts on parenting plans. In this post we’ll examine the purposes of a parenting plan and review key components of the best interests of the child test. In the next, we’ll set out the basic topics a parenting plan should cover.
Think safety first
A woman who has been subjected to abuse by her children’s other parent must always consider her safety as well as the safety of her children when she develops a parenting plan.
If she is developing a plan to be submitted to the court or a mediator before a final decision is made/agreement is reached about custody and access, she should not ignore safety issues just to try to make herself look cooperative. If she has safety concerns the court/mediator need to know about them, and the parenting plan must take them into account.
If she is developing her parenting plan after a court order has been made or the parties have signed an agreement, of course it must follow the order/agreement, but she should do as much as she can to ensure that her safety concerns are addressed.
If you are assisting women with the development of a safety plan, never lose sight of safety-related issues no matter which topic within the plan she is working on.
What makes a good parenting plan?
The main purpose of a parenting plan is to assist parents, post-separation, to organize the care of and make decisions about their children.
A well-prepared parenting plan, when both parents cooperate with it, can enhance communication and support effective parenting that is in the best interests of the children. It can decrease conflict, save money, provide certainty and reduce stress for the children.
Where both parents are not committed to what is best for the children, where there is a power imbalance between the parents or where one parent is fearful of the other because of abuse, a parenting plan may be of limited value.
To work well, the plan must be clear. This is especially true in situations involving family violence. Many abusers are highly skilled at finding the smallest loophole or gap and then manipulating that to their advantage as part of their ongoing harassment and intimidation of their former partner.
Parenting plans need to be practical. While a high level of detail is needed, especially in family violence situations, there also has to be some flexibility to accommodate last-minute issues that can arise for parents as well as for children.
The parenting plan will likely have to be adapted over time. Arrangements may have to change as children’s ages, interests and activities change or as the parents’ circumstances change.
If the plan is being written as a term of a court order or mediated agreement, it must follow any conditions set out in the order or agreement.
A woman should have the parenting plan reviewed by a lawyer before it is formalized or she agrees to it.
Best interests of the child
The Children’s Law Reform Act, section 24, sets out the best interests of the child test. These are the factors a judge is to take into account when making custody and access decisions.
Whether it is the judge setting the parenting plan or the parents establishing one, it must reflect the best interests of the children. In particular, the parenting plan needs to address:
- the love, affection and emotional ties between the child and the parents
- the views and wishes of the child
- any special needs the child has
- any history of family violence
while also ensuring the child has a stable and permanent environment in which to live.
Next week: What a parenting plan should cover