The Parenting Plan is the parental agreement setting out how the children will be cared for between separated parents. Most broadly, it stipulates the residential arrangement and how decisions shall be made affecting the child. The parenting plan may also include agreements with regard to extra-curricular activities, education, faith and health. If there are particular needs or wants by either parent or regarding the child specifically those can be included too. In the event parents cannot agree on something that arises upon completion of the Parenting Plan, the plan can also include a statement as to how differences will be resolved. Essentially, the Parenting Plan is the road map that separated parents will follow for the raising of their kids.
The objective in detailing a Parenting Plan is to provide as smooth a parenting path to follow as possible so your children can enjoy a meaningful relationship with both parents to achieve a good developmental outcome – be a well rounded person who gets along with others and is successful in life.
While some parents may fret the details of the plan, the most important determinant to how well children of separated parents develop has less to do with the actual details, including the time lived in each parent’s home, faith, choice of school, extra-curricular activity, etc. The most important determinant is actually parental conflict. The greater the conflict between the parents, the greater the risk for a poor outcome for the child. The degree to which parents can find reasonable solutions to their differences, the children are better off. The degree to which parents may find themselves in ongoing conflict, then the greater the necessity or specifying as much detail as possible and the greater the necessity to limit or control for contact between the parents.
As best as possible, parents are encouraged to develop parenting plan between themselves, as opposed to having a plan imposed through court or arbitration which is not to say that court or arbitration may not be necessary, but should be considered a last resort.
The reason for parents to first try and develop a plan between themselves is because no other third party will ever know the details of your life, like yourselves. Further, those plans agreed to between parents tend to be better followed and longer lasting. While a solution may be imposed through court or arbitration, inevitably one or other parent is dissatisfied with the outcome and that parent may try to change it either directly by seeking to return the matter to court or arbitration or indirectly by doing what they want to do anyways. Thus imposed outcomes, do not necessarily end conflict.
Consider these strategies when seeking to resolve a Parenting Plan;
Be careful who you seek advice from to determine which approach is best for you. There can be considerable bias towards the service one offers. To determine what is best for you, it is advisable to speak with several mediators, collaborative lawyers and litigators. Beware of hollow promises and keep in mind that agreements made between the parents directly, no matter how they are assisted, tend to be better followed and longer lasting.
By the way, you will be co-parenting no matter what. The only question is the degree to which you do so successfully and in the end, peace between the parents provides for the better outcome for children regardless of what you agree to.
Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America and was the first social worker to sit on the Ontario Board for Collaborative Family Law.