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What is a Parenting Plan?

Posted on August 16, 2019

A Parenting Plan is a document that can be agreed and drawn up by two parents who are separating or going through a divorce and it usually covers all aspects of how the parents will raise their children after their split. This kind of agreement does not have to use legal terms and usually includes schedules as to how custody will be shared and may include how child support will be dealt with.

You may have heard that a Parenting Plan is a good alternative to having a court decide on these arrangements for you but whether or not it is a viable option for you and your family will depend on your individual situation.

What is a parenting planWho can have a Parenting Plan?

In theory, any couple who agree, or can come to an agreement on how they will parent for the best interests of their children, can benefit from a Parenting Plan. If that’s not the case, or there are other circumstances which prevent the couple from making such an agreement, then most likely other arrangements will need to be made, either with or without the help of a lawyer.

What are the Benefits of a Parenting Plan?

There are many benefits of reaching an amicable agreement around shared parenting;

  • It’s clear to the children that their parents are still able to communicate and work together to put their needs first
  • You both get an equal say in the process
  • You know your children best so it’s far better for you to reach agreement than it is for a court to make decisions that could negatively impact them
  • A detailed parenting plan with clear and specific expectations can help in avoiding future conflict between parents
  • It can help to lessen children’s anxiety around transitioning to two separate households
  • It’s usually far less expensive than other options such as obtaining a court order

What sort of things should be Included in a Parenting Plan?

At a basic level, a Parenting Plan should include;

  • Parenting Schedules – who the children will live with daily and weekly and how will vacation and other special holidays be managed?
  • Child Support Agreements – who will pay what, when, and for how long? There is a child support calculator available to help guide your discussion around this if your situation is a straightforward one.
  • How you will make decisions together around Health Care, Education, Travel and Discipline
  • For what reasons would you want to make changes to the plan you’ve agreed and what would be the process for doing it?
  • How are you going to deal with disagreements and conflicts that may arise

The Department of Justice website features a very comprehensive checklist of what to include in a Parenting Plan and makes a very good point about the plan being detailed enough so that it’s useful but also flexible enough to be realistic as and when changes occur.

Is a Parenting Plan enforceable in Court?

This depends upon whether you are going to include your parenting plan with your divorce order under the Divorce Act, in which case it will be legally binding and can be enforced. If you want to make it legally binding before or after a divorce, you would need to have it changed into a court order under provincial law. The Plan may also form part of your Separation Agreement and become enforceable in that manner.

What happens if we can’t Reach Agreement on a Parenting Plan?

Understandably, at the time of divorce or separation, emotions run very high and many parents will be unable to think clearly and rationally enough to put a well thought out Parenting Plan in place. Or they begin with the best intentions and settle on a Parenting Plan which falls apart when a change happens, such as a new partner being introduced.

Fortunately there are other options you can explore as part of Collaborative Family Law, or mediation for example. If communications are still open with the other parent, this may help to get your discussions back on track and avoid the need for a court order.

When to Consult a Lawyer

You know your circumstances better than anyone. Whether you need a lawyer to look over a Parenting Agreement before you commit to it or you feel like you’re no longer in a position to negotiate with your ex and need some advice on how to move forward, please give us a call or complete our request for a free consultation.


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