Need to Know: Parenting Plans

Need to Know: Parenting Plans

A parenting plan is a written document that outlines the agreement between parents on how they will raise their child and handle parenting issues after divorce.

It describes parenting arrangements and decision-making responsibilities when the parents are no longer living together.

You can choose to include your parenting plan in a legally binding and enforceable separation agreement or make it under an informal arrangement if you agree with your partner on all issues relating to your child.

A well-written parenting plan can provide structure to a child’s life and serve as a guide to the proper functioning of a family after divorce.

What Should Be Included In A Parenting Plan?

There are a number of issues that can be included in a parenting plan. It should be tailored to meet the unique needs of the family and be in the best interest of the child. The parenting plan checklist below can help you in getting started.

  1. Communication

The parenting plan should outline the process of communicating important information such as medical information, school information, emergency communication, child care, new partners, communication between both parents, and communication with the child while they are with the other parent. It should also outline the method of communication, for example, will it be in-person communication, by phone, email or by video chat.

  1. Parenting Time and Transportation Arrangements

You might want to include answers to questions such as where should be the primary residence of the child? Who will be in charge of transporting the child between homes? How will childcare arrangements be coordinated? Will the child have two sets of belongings or will the belongings move between homes? How will time be allocated for the child’s social life? How will associated expenses be shared?

  1. Health Care and Consent To Treatments

Who will make decisions about medical or dental care? How will child medication be managed when between homes? How will treatment arrangements be made and will the cost be shared? Who will take care of the children when they are ill? Who will hold the children’s health cards?

  1. Education and Extracurricular Activities

How will you make decisions for the child’s education and extracurricular activities such as choice of school, special educational needs, accessing school records, types and limits of extracurricular activities and school volunteering?

  1. Culture, language, religious and spiritual upbringing

How will you support your child’s religious and cultural upbringing? What language will your child speak in each home?

  1. Vacation, Holidays and Special Days

You should include how your child will spend vacations and holidays and with whom. Will there be a holiday schedule? How will your child spend special days such as birthdays, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.

  1. Travel and Relocation

What process will you put in place if your child is travelling with the other parent? How will you deal with a proposed relocation by a parent with or without the child?

  1. Conflict Resolution

How will conflicts be resolved? Will you use a mediator or other family dispute resolution process?

  1. Address anticipated changes when you write your parenting plan.

The Best Interests Of The Child Test

In Canada, the provisions of the Divorce Act requires the court and partners who are going through a divorce to consider the Best Interests Of the Child (BIOC) when deciding parenting time and decision-making responsibility (BIOC test is also set out in the Children’s Law Reform Act Ontario for unmarried/common law spouses.)

This is called the best interests of the child test.

It is a legal test used to determine what would best protect the child with primary consideration given to the child’s physical, emotional and psychological safety, security and well-being.

In determining the best interests of the child, the court considers all factors related

to the circumstances of the child, including:

  1. The child’s needs, given the child’s age and stage of development, such as the child’s need for stability
  2. The nature and strength of the relationship between the child and each parent
  3. The child’s physical, emotional, and psychological safety, security, and well-being
  4. How long the child has lived in a stable situation, otherwise referred to as “status quo.”
  5. The parent’s plan to care for the child
  6. The child’s views and preferences, if possible
  7. Family history of abuse of violence

What If Your Spouse Has Issues Affecting Their Ability To Parent?

The presence of an issue such as mental illness on its own is not a ground for denying decision-making responsibility. Mental illness or other issues become relevant if they pose a barrier to you or your spouse’s parenting capacity or if they stand as a threat to the child.

How Can You Change a Parenting Plan?

When changes occur in your situation, you may decide to make changes to your parenting plan. You can:

  1. Talk to your partner and make a new agreement: It is obviously better for the child if  parents can agree on a change to suit the child;                                                          
  2. Consider mediation: Mediators can help parties resolve their differences without the emotional toll and financial cost of litigating the matter in court;
  3. Get help from a parenting coordinator: This is another option for parents who are unable to reach an agreement, the parenting coordinator will make the decision.This allows parents quick access to a method to resolve their parenting disputes, without the time and expense of going to court; or
  4. Go to court: If you cannot agree you can ask a judge to resolve the dispute.
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