What is a parenting plan? Part 2

This is the second of two blog posts on parenting plans.

In the first post we examined the purposes of a parenting plan and reviewed key components of the best interests of the child test. In this post, we’ll set out the basic topics a parenting plan should cover.

What should the parenting plan cover?

Schedule details

Especially if the children are young, the schedule should be set out in detail. It is not enough to say that the children live primarily with the mother and spend time with the father on alternative weekends. The plan should state specifically what that looks like:

  • What is the basic schedule?
  • What is the holiday schedule?
  • How will special occasions (birthdays, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days, school graduation, etc.) and holidays be arranged?
  • When are the children exchanged (day of the week and time)?
  • Who is responsible for getting the children from A – B?
  • Where do the exchanges take place?
  • Is anyone other than the parents authorized to pick up or drop off the children?
  • What are the alternative plans (ie, the mother is supposed to deliver the children to the father but her car is out of order or the children are supposed to be exchanged at the public library but it is closed)?
  • Is there to be telephone contact during the week for the father? When (day of the week and time)? What if the child has a special event that would interfere with that phone call? What telephone number is the father to call? Phone or Skype?
  • Is the child allowed to call the parent s/he is not with? Under what circumstances?
  • Can the parents travel outside the jurisdiction with the children? What are the terms (other parent must consent, other parent must be informed, no obligations as long as travel falls within that parent’s time with the children)
  • If a parent’s time with the children does not happen, does it get made up? How?
  • Do the children’s belongings travel with them or does each parent have everything the children need?
  • How are the children’s social lives to be arranged?
  • Who is in charge of getting children to medical and other similar appointments? Can both parents attend these appointments?

Children’s activities

  • What extra-curricular activities are the children involved in?
  • Are there limits or can either parent add to these activities?
  • Who pays for what?
  • Who is responsible for getting the children to and from these activities?
  • Can both parents attend or is only one parent to be at an activity at a time?
  • Who buys equipment etc.?

Decision-making

The first thing to be set out is which parent is responsible for decision-making:

  • Does one parent have all the decision-making responsibility?
  • If so, does that parent have an obligation to inform the other parent of decisions once they have been made?
  • If the parents share decision-making, what does that look like?
    • Each parent makes decisions as they arise while the children are with that parent?
    • Each parent has responsibility for decisions in different areas of the child’s life: education, religion/culture, extra-curricular activities, health care
    • What happens if one parent’s decision conflicts with a decision made by the other parent?

Information sharing and communication

  • What information are the parents required to share with one another?
  • How is information to be shared (communications book, online tool, email, text message, telephone)?
  • Is there a different arrangement if information has to be shared on an urgent basis?
  • Can arrangements be made with third parties (e.g. schools, health care providers) to provide both parents independently with information/records/reports?
  • Do the parents communicate generally by phone, email. text, communications book, online tool, etc.?
  • How often are the parents expected to communicate with one another OR what is the maximum amount of communication that is permitted?
  • Are there limitations on sharing information/communicating with extended family members/friends?
  • Who is responsible for keeping the children’s documents (e.g. passports, health cards, birth certificates, etc.)?

Conflict resolution

Especially where there has been abuse, conflict will arise. It is important for the parenting plan to set out a clear conflict-resolution process that is safe for the woman.

Some options include:

  • Mediation
  • Collaborative law
  • Parenting coordinators
  • Arbitration
  • Returning to court

The conflict resolution provisions in the parenting plan should set out how the costs will be covered:

  • Will each parent pay half?
  • Will the parents share the costs in proportion to their income?
  • What happens if one parent persistently does not cover their share of the costs?

Adapting the plan

  • Do the parents agree to review the plan on a regular basis (eg. once a year) to see if any provisions need to be adapted?
  • Is either parent free to raise items that s/he thinks need change at any time?
  • Will the parents work with a third-party such as a mediator or parent coordinator to make changes to the plan?
  • If so, who will cover those costs?

Other

Depending on a woman’s situation, she may want her parenting plan to also address some or all of these issues:

  • Grandparents:
    • How do the children spend time with their grandparents (eg they see the maternal grandparents when they are with the mother and the paternal grandparents while they are with the father?
    • Are grandparents involved in special events like birthdays, soccer tournaments, school graduations, etc.?
    • Pets
      • If there is a pre-separation pet, who does it live with?
      • Do the parents have to agree before either of them can get a pet for the children?
      • Can children visit a pet even when they are not in the house with the pet?
      • Will the pet travel back and forth with the children?
      • Who is responsible for pet-related costs?
      • Social media
        • Any limitations to the use of social media by the parents about each other should be clearly set out in the parenting plan
        • Are there limits to information, including photos, of the children, on social media?
  • Large gifts
    • When a child wants a large gift (eg. an iPad, a major trip, etc.), are the parents required to communicate
    • Do the parents share the cost of some or all major gifts to the children?
  • A new partner
    • How and when will new partners be introduced to the children?
    • Is the parent required to inform the other parent of the new partner?
    • What role will the new parent play in the children’s lives?

Other resources

There are a number of private websites that provide information about parenting plans, but many of these are connected to for-profit businesses, so we have not included them here. Both the federal Department of Justice and Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) have reliable, accurate and objective information and tips for someone who is developing a parenting plan:

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