Tips for Creating a Parenting Plan
When parents end their relationship, they may find that one of the most difficult issues to handle will be arrangements for the children. Decisions about where the children will live and how they will maintain relationships with the non-resident parent can become emotional and contentious and may cause significant acrimony.
It should go without saying that the best thing for children is for their parents to handle the issues arising from divorce and separation as calmly as possible, however, we understand that this is not always easy.
When parents are finding it difficult to negotiate arrangements for children, they may find it helpful to create a parenting plan to start a dialogue about how to make the arrangements work.
Seven top tips for a successful parenting plan
A parenting plan allows you to write down all the issues you wish to address and enables both parents to contribute. There is a lot to consider, so here are our tips for making a parenting plan that will work for you and your children.
- Download a parenting plan template: A number of templates are available to download on the internet. The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has produced a guide that has a section you can complete. Alternatively, you can create your own plan to include all the things that are specific to you and your children.
- Both parents should write their own plan: Start by completing a parenting plan separately from the other parent and then exchange them to see where your ideas are similar and where they differ. Sometimes, one parent will think of an aspect of the arrangements that the other parent has not considered and this can start a really useful dialogue about what's best for the children.
- Focus on the topics that you need to reach agreement on: There will be lots of different things to think about here and each family is unique. The following are perhaps the most fundamental issues to consider:
- Living arrangements: Where and with which parent will the children live (child residence) and how the relationship with the absent parent will be maintained (contact).
- Communication: How the children will communicate with the absent parent and how all members of the family will conduct themselves when communicating about family issues.
- Money: Including child maintenance and extra incidental costs such as school fees, school uniforms, school trips, etc.
- Routines: From school pickups to bedtimes and TV/computer game use, maintaining your children's usual routines is crucial to help them adjust to new circumstances following relationship breakdown.
- Childcare: Including who can act as alternative carers if neither parent is available.
- Education: Where and how the children will be educated, how the school should communicate with parents, whether parents attend parents' evenings together, etc.
- Healthcare: Choosing a GP surgery, who the primary emergency contact will be, any religious beliefs that affect the types of treatment the children may have.
- Cultural and religious issues: Will the children receive a religion-based or culturally-specific upbringing, including schooling and attendance at religious services and meetings.
- How to maintain relationships with friends and relatives: including grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. especially if the children are to move away.
- Holidays and special occasions: Including taking the children abroad for holidays, and where the children will spend religious holidays and birthdays, etc.
- New Partners: Showing respect for each parent's private life. When and how will new partners be introduced to children.
- Other issues: What would happen if one parent wanted/needed to move away? Where will important documents about the children be stored? Who will be responsible for taking children to doctor and dentist appointments and after-school/weekend activities?
- Share your individual parenting plan notes: If you have been finding it difficult to discuss the arrangements together, you can look at the other parent's notes alone and this may help you to identify the points of contention. Once you have established the more challenging points of making arrangements for the children, you can work towards creating a plan that works for you all.
- Consider how the plans might change as your children grow up: If you are making arrangements for very young children, it may be necessary to change the plan as your children change schools, take up new hobbies, and become more independent. It might be useful to include a date on which you will re-examine the plan with a view to adjusting arrangements that are no longer necessary or applicable.
- Talk to your children: If your children are old/mature enough, you should talk to them about the issues that matter to them and how they would like things to work. While they will be unable to help you make decisions about certain issues, they are likely to have strong opinions about how they want to be treated by both of you and even how they want you to treat each other.
- Seek legal advice: During negotiations regarding your parenting plan, you should seek expert Child Law legal advice to ensure that your rights and those of your children are being maintained. If you decide that you wish to make your parenting plan legally binding and enforceable, a Family Lawyer will have the experience to help you draft your application to a Family Court so that your informal agreement can be converted into a Consent Order.