Ideally when two parents separate, their children should become their top priority. Parents who can communicate and cooperate following a separation will be able to arrive at a parenting plan that suits the needs of their children. Those needs will vary depending on their age, preferences and emotional ties to each parent. With the assistance of a lawyer, a parenting plan can be drafted and agreed to by the parents to ensure that parental conflict is minimized while maximizing the healthy adjustment of the child to the new family reality.
A basic function of a parenting plan is to set out when the children will be residing with each parent. The plan will provide a week-to-week schedule, as well as accounting for holidays, special occassions and summer vacations. A term can be put in place that would give the other parent a right to take care of the child if the other is unavailable during the child’s scheduled residency at that parent’s home. This will allow the child to be with a parent rather than a relative or babysitter for an extended period.
Some parenting plans will involve frequent communication and cooperative decision making by both parents on issues of education, healthcare, and extra-curricular activities. However, the plan will also be structured and specified to avoid uncertainty and conflict. The plan will account for minor, day-to-day decisions, which will be typically handled by each respective parent as they arise. It will also account for major decisions, such as a change of residence or school, which will require consensus. A process for dispute-resolution will be put in place.
The plan will not only deal with specific parenting issues, but will set out general guidelines for each parent to follow. These will include terms prohibiting each parent from denigrating the other in the child’s presence and respecting each other’s privacy and autonomy. The terms will also encourage each parent to foster a good relationship between the child and the other parent. The goal is for the child to have two parents who respect each other and work together for the child’s happiness.
Where parents are unable or unwilling to cooperate, a parenting plan may still be the best option to reduce conflict and create certainty for the child. Parenting plans can be tailored to divide the decisions between parents based upon their respective abilities and expertise. For instance, one parent can be involved in major decisions regarding the child’s education, and the other may make major decisions for the child’s extra-curricular activities, like sports or hobbies. Rules can be put in place to ensure communication occurs primarily via email and only in the case of necessities or emergencies.
A parenting plan is often attached to a separation agreement, making it a binding legal contract between the parents. This means that a parenting plan is enforceable by the courts. However, it is preferable that the parties resolve their differences in a way that minimizes time and expense. For that reason, most parenting plans will require the parties to negotiate or mediate any disputes that arise between them before involving the courts. Lawyers can assist in the interpretation and enforcement of parenting plans.
As children grow, their needs change and they develop preferences. A parenting plan can be changed as required from time to time to accomodate these developments. Changes can be signed by both parties and attached to the document with little time and expense.
If you have any questions about post-separation parenting plans or separation agreements, feel free to drop me a line and I would be happy to answer your question and assist: David@drusslaw.com