Arrow to go back to

What is a Parenting Plan? Why do I Need One?

Image of a mother and son looking at a tablet screen

Let’s talk about parenting arrangements. Your parenting plan.

A parenting plan is exactly what it sounds like: a plan to parent your children with your former spouse. Some may say it’s easy-peasy to create one. It is not. But the more prepared you are, the less challenging it will be for your entire family. When creating a parenting plan, there are a few critical elements you need to keep in mind: (1) your children’s ages and stages of development; (2) your co-parenting strengths and weaknesses; and, (3) the unique needs of your children and family as a unit.

Remember – you are still a family; you just look a little different.

4 key tips for navigating the challenges of creating a parenting plan that best fits your family

1.  Don’t start with a template, start with your family’s needs

You know your family best! You know how your children behave when they’re sick, how cranky they get at bedtime or how they respond to new situations. Examine what you feel is important for your children to feel as comfortable and as least disrupted as possible through this transition. Your parenting plan can be as detailed as you need it to be.

We recently worked with a family whose daughter had a severe peanut allergy. It was important to them that they had provisions in their agreement on how to peanut-proof their respective homes. Having her parents on the same page alleviated lots of anxiety for their daughter. She was able to feel safe in both homes.

2.  There is no perfect schedule

There is no such thing as a perfect schedule. If there was, you would get to see your children every single day.

This is a tough, if not, the toughest thing to determine. Creating a parenting schedule requires an understanding of your children’s needs and recognizing the importance of them spending quality time with both parents. When discussing a parenting schedule, both parents need to get on the same page despite the potential reluctance to give up any time with your child. It is important for children to develop healthy attachments – with each parent. The more you two work together, the more you protect your children’s future well-being and post-separation adjustment.

Keep in mind that the ages of your children matter. Coming up with a parenting schedule for a 6-year-old will be very different than for a 15-year-old. Remember, as they grow, your children will be able to express their wishes and needs, including how much time they want to spend at each of your homes or their friends’ homes for that matter. Give them the room to express themselves, listen to them and respect their voice.

3.   Your parenting plan is a living document

As much as it may feel like an exercise in crystal ball gazing, there are many things you can anticipate and prepare for in the future:

  • children growing;
  • changing schools;
  • new partners coming into the picture; or
  • maybe even new siblings.

Your parenting plan is intended to be a living document. What does this mean? It will evolve with your family’s developments and serve a different purpose over time. A well thought out parenting plan can save you lots of grief and stress when changes occur. And there will be changes because that’s just a fact of life! Make sure you include as much flexibility as needed, as well as review mechanisms.

For example, we worked with a family who moved to Nicaragua, but the father decided to come back to Canada. They both agreed that their children would finish elementary school in Nicaragua, but they included a provision (review mechanism) in their agreement stating that they will review the parenting arrangement once the children were ready for transitioning into high-school. This was important for them and for their children to know that they will assess the best options available to them at that time, so no one felt trapped in a parenting plan that may, at a time in the future, not meet their children’s academic needs.

4.  Money, money, money

This is a difficult topic, especially when your household’s income will suddenly have to be split in half. If you plan strategically and minimize the expense of divorce or separation, you will be in the best possible shape you can be to start re-writing your new chapter. Depending on your parenting schedule and your respective incomes, child support may be payable from one parent to the other. Child support is a parental obligation and the child’s right to being financially supported by each parent. I will not go into detail here, but it is important to be informed and plan for it, especially since there are lots of myths flying around. Bottom line is that it is not “yours”, but the child’s right to receive this payment.

Another thing you can plan for is your children’s post-secondary education. Usually, separated parents pay for their children’s post-secondary education in proportion to their respective incomes at the time of college or university. Many parents like to discuss and agree on specific yearly contributions to maximize, let’s say an RESP or education fund. This is a great thing to have included in your parenting plan! It allows for transparency around contributions, as well as terms around what happens with the monies in case the child does not pursue post-secondary education.

Although not mandatory, many separated parents choose to maintain a Life Insurance with each other or the children as beneficiaries. It is meant to serve as financial security for the surviving parent while he/she continues to care for the children’s needs.

While there are lots of things to mull over when creating a parenting plan, if you address at least some of these items, you are on your way to finalizing a plan that will stand the test of time. Let’s face it, no matter how much parents are encouraged to create a plan on their own, it’s not always easy or comfortable. Many families choose to engage a mediator with experience in mental health, parenting or social-work to help them navigate and draft an agreement that will be reflective of their family’s needs and expectations for their children’s futures.

Blog posts and podcasts are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

About the Author

Laura Tarcea

Laura is a family mediator dedicated to supporting families through divorce or separation. With a background in Mental Health, Research, Program Development, and a Master of Laws in Dispute Resolution, Laura brings valuable insight and critical knowledge to parents. She strongly believes that a healthy co-parenting relationship will protect children from short-term and long-term damage. As such, Laura is a supporter of out-of-court processes to help equip parents with appropriate tools to succeed in their next chapter.

view Bio
Arrow to go to
Image of a mother holding her daughter

Divorcing or separating? Family mediation can help.

Contact us today for a free phone consultation, or fill out our intake form.