September 20, 2022
The basic elements of a parenting plan.
A parenting plan is an agreement between separated parents about how they will raise their children after separation.
What goes into it are the parent’s expectations for co-parenting and guidelines for future decisions. It needs to be into writing. That way, parents can co-parent successfully without being in constant negotiations on parenting issues. If you write it out, you are not making assumptions. Clarity is important in outlining your responsibilities for parenting as separated parents.
Where a parent fears for their or their child’s safety, or in situations of family violence, a parenting plan may not be appropriate.
A parenting plan that does not match the law could create rather than resolve issues. Before agreeing to a parenting plan, parents should get legal advice from a lawyer. Parents need to know their rights and responsibilities under the law to make an informed decision on a parenting plan.
Each family is different and so is each parenting plan. The parenting plan should be tailored to that family. Parenting involves compromise. Reaching a signed parenting plan is no different.
In Ontario, the schedule of time a child has with a parent is called “Parenting Time”. The old legal term was “Access”. “Access” and “Parenting Time” mean the same thing.
The schedule of parenting time should be appropriate for the child’s age. As a child ages, the schedule should evolve with the child. A child who is 2 years old will need to have shorter gaps between scheduled time with a parent. A child who is 12 years old can handle a longer space between parenting time.
In Ontario, the guiding principle is the children’s best interests. The parenting schedule should ensure that both parents have significant roles in their children’s lives. The schedule should address the full year, including holidays.
Important events, like weddings and funerals, are not scheduled based on a parenting schedule. It is important to be flexible, so that a child can share in important moments with each parent.
In Ontario, the legal term for making decisions for a child is called “Decision-Making Responsibility”. The old legal term was “Custody”. “Custody” and “Decision-Making Responsibility” mean the same thing.
The significant decisions that parents will need to make for a child include choice of school, choice of family doctor, dentist, medical treatments, what language the child will speak or learn in and religion.
Depending on the age of the child, many of these decisions may have been made before separation. Typically, day-to-day decisions are to be made by the parent who has parenting time. The Plan should detail the decisions that have been already made, future decisions that the parties agree on and how the parties will make decisions together. The plan should detail how parties will handle decisions that they disagree on. The section on Making Changes below provides details on options to resolve disputes.
Agreeing on the method of communication and keeping language neutral reduces parental conflict going forward. Communication between parents should be child-focused. Keeping communication limited to the issue affecting the child is part of effective co-parenting.
The factors in the amount of child support are the number of children, the parenting schedule and the parents’ incomes. The amount of child support in the parenting plan should match what is required under the Federal Child Support Guidelines based on the parenting time schedule.
The parenting schedule can change as the child gets older or as the circumstances of the parents change. If the schedule changes, child support will need to change.
Some changes are expected others are not. A parenting plan should have a process for both a regular review and for unexpected changes.
The intent of a parenting plan is to avoid conflict. There may be disagreements that the parents cannot resolve between themselves. The parenting plan should have a process for resolving these disputes. Options for dispute resolution include parenting mediation, collaborative family law, arbitration or court.
This is why getting legal advice from a lawyer is important. A parenting plan can be incorporated into a separation agreement or court order, which could make it enforceable in court. If the parenting plan does not use language the law requires, then you could make it difficult to be enforced in court if you had to have the court resolve an issue. A parenting plan that does not match the law could create more issues instead of resolving them.
You should get legal advice from a lawyer before signing a parenting plan. By talking to a lawyer, you will know if the parenting plan you are considering would be enforceable or not.
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