Parenting can be difficult at the best of times, even more so when communication between parties breaks down and child custody becomes an issue. Here, a parenting plan can help focus your attention on what is in the best interests of your children and consider what you and your former partner feel is relevant and important. For additional support reach out to Goughs’ Family Law solicitors.
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What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a written document between separated parents setting out their respective views and aims to reduce areas of conflict. By preparing the plan, it encourages parents to discuss both important and practical issues concerning the children. It also has the benefit of setting out their respective positions at an early stage. Whilst a parenting plan is not legally binding, it is a helpful tool through which each parent can set out what any agreed arrangements are and what they consider is the right course of action for their children. In doing so, it helps parents to listen and respect each other’s views. Ideally it will assist in avoiding a situation where conflict arises resulting in an application to the family court.
What are the general principles of creating an effective parenting plan?
A clear and concise plan is crucial to ensure both parties know where they stand in relation to matters concerning the children; what they want to achieve and how they will achieve it. Both parties need to listen to each other and try to ensure they are considerate to the other’s views and fair in their approach; the children come first. Each family unit is different and the plan should try to deal with their specific needs. The more detailed it is, the clearer it is. Depending on the age of the children, parents may wish to seek their input on certain things. They can also make provision within the plan for when it should be reviewed to keep up with the changing needs of the family. Parents may also feel that they need assistance from a neutral third party in areas that they cannot initially agree on.
Related reading: Making child arrangements over Christmas.
What topics should be included?
Proposed child arrangements, where children will stay normally, special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, and during the school holidays or inset days (you should refer to the school’s website). Bank holidays should also be considered.
Consideration of handovers – where and what time; is there an agreement that another person is able to assist?
How will you communicate? Phone, text, email. Should provision be made for contact between the children and the other parent when they have not seen each other for longer periods of time, such as facilitating contact by way of a telephone or video call.
Day to day living – consider things like bedtime routine, rules for eating meals, screen time. You may agree to different rules but it is best for both parents to know what those rules are when in the care of the other parent.
Holidays – whether a trip abroad is agreed in principle and how/when that is communicated. Who retains the children’s passport?
Education and schooling – contact with the school; attendance at parents evening; how will homework be managed?
Medical needs – how to deal on a day to day basis and in the event of any emergencies. How to communicate if medicines have been taken? Do you need two lots of prescriptions (one for each house?).
Religion – are there any specific issues/views held by either of you that need to be discussed?
Role of grandparents and extended family – does provision need to be made to ensure the children have a meaningful relationship with wider family members?
New partners – is there a timeframe considered suitable before the children are introduced to any new partners; how will this be handled?
Reviewing the plan and what to do if it goes wrong?
As you move forward in your parenting journey, you may find that disputes arise or that the plan does not cover every eventuality. Don’t worry. The purpose of the plan is to provide you with an outline, putting the children’s needs first and allowing you to know and understand the other’s position, even if you don’t agree on everything. The plan will need to be reviewed in line with the changing nature of family life; how often can be discussed and reflected by you both in the plan. You can also consider how any disputes arising between you on certain issues should be handled, either with the assistance of a neutral third party or mediation. You can search online for mediators using the following link: Find your local mediator – Family Mediation Council.
Related Reading: What to do when child arrangements aren’t working.