A children law solicitor’s perspective on parenting plans
If you have separated from your partner or you are in the midst of divorce proceedings the most important thing to sort out are the child care arrangements for your children. In other words, whether the children will be co-parented or parallel parented or if one parent will be the primary parent looking after the children full time with the other parent having some contact. Whatever child care arrangement you come to, a parenting plan can help both parents understand the ground rules and reduce the risk of fall outs and court applications for child arrangement orders.
Children law solicitor, Louise Halford, answers your frequently asked questions on parenting plans:
- What is a parenting plan?
- How do I agree a parenting plan?
- What should go into a parenting plan?
- How do you change a parenting plan?
What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a document drawn up by parents to record the parenting arrangements for a child or children after a separation or divorce. A parenting plan can be agreed by parents or can be made after children court proceedings for a:
- Child arrangement order.
- Specific issue order.
- Prohibited steps order.
- Relocation order.
How do I agree a parenting plan?
There are many ways that parents can agree a parenting plan. You can use a template and prepare one yourself. Sometimes, that is a bad idea as ‘going it alone’ may make you end up arguing with your ex-partner and polarise your positions. With the help of a children law solicitor or family mediation you may be able to discuss child care arrangements and reach a compromise.
What should go into a parenting plan?
Every child and family are different so your parenting plan should be individual to you and your child’s needs. The fact that a family member or a neighbour or friend has a parenting plan should not influence what should go into your parenting plan. That is because your parenting plan needs to set out the best agreement for your family, taking into account your family and personal circumstances and individual preferences. For example, some parents share care of their children with the children spending an equal amount of time with each parent. Other parents prefer their children to have one home base during the week and to share quality weekend and school holiday time. Neither option is the ‘best’ or the right one as so much depends on your family and each parent’s work commitments and the distance between the two homes.
Every parenting plan should consider including what has been agreed on topics such as:
- Home base – unless parenting is to be shared equally.
- Contact or shared parenting arrangements such as the agreed times for collection and return and drop off points and who will do the collections and returns.
- The practical points on shared care and regular contact, such as the washing and return of school uniforms or the supervision of homework or who is responsible for clothes and shoes shopping or haircuts.
- Whether phone contact is to take place between parent and child and, if so, frequency so phone calls do not become too restrictive or intrusive for a parent with the care of a younger child.
- Special contact (child and parents birthdays and mother’s day and father’s day as well as Christmas and religious observance days) and holidays.
- Best method of communication between parents if contact or other arrangements need to be changed. For example, mobile, text or email. Communication could be over the need to cancel a visit or to agree a coordinated approach to the buying of birthday presents.
- Who is responsible for medical and dental appointments and communication about appointments or to say if a child is ill or hospitalised.
- How you will deal with parent evenings at school or attendance at school plays or sports days.
- How will you address the introduction of new partners and their children and communication of the information to your ex-partner. This sort of information is helpful so the other parent does not find out about new relationships or remarriage via the child. Whilst you may not want to communicate this type of personal information or receive the news about your ex-partner’s new relationship, a major reason for child care arrangement breakdown is non-communication over adult issues that also affect your child.
- Holiday plans – if you plan to go on holiday during your holiday contact time, is it agreed that you need to inform the other parent about your planned trips overseas or to a destination in the UK and give agreed key information such as flight times and numbers and hotel details and who else who will be accompanying the child on holiday. For example, a new partner and their children.
- Parenting plan changes – how you will agree to make changes to the parenting plan.
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How do you change a parenting plan?
Children and their wants and needs do not stay the same. What are appropriate parenting arrangements for a two-year-old who is not in school may be completely different for an eleven-year-old. By the time a child is in their teenage years the arrangements will need to change again. Add to the mix that your circumstances may change with a new job, house or relationship and the arrival of additional children or step-children. Likewise, your ex-partner’s circumstances are likely to change resulting in a need to review the parenting plan.
The fact that a parenting plan needs changing should not be a sign of defeat. For example, your five-year-old may not be able to cope with equal co-parenting, even if their cousin or other children in their class do so. Some children are just more adaptable than others. Alternatively, a parenting plan may need changing or tweaking because the only reason that a child is struggling with co-parenting or parallel parenting is different parenting regimes in the two households and two parenting styles that are confusing to the child because as soon as a child has got used to one routine they move to their other parent’s home.
A parenting plan can be changed by email or you may prefer a meeting or to even set up an annual chat to review how things are working. The best thing is that if anything over the child care arrangements is ‘bugging you’ that you do not let things fester so things get acrimonious or even lead to children law court proceedings. Instead, it is preferable to agree to review the parenting plan, perhaps with the help of a children law solicitor or family mediator, before the arrangements break down or positions are polarised. It is also helpful to remember that as children get older, they will want to have a say in the parenting plan. For example, the ten o’clock Saturday contact start time may work for you but your teenager may want to stay in bed until noon or go out with their mates on a Saturday night.
The key point with a parenting plan is that it should grow with you and your family and just because something worked in the past doesn’t mean that it is necessarily the best thing for your child or your ex-partner now.
How can a children law solicitor at Evolve Family Law help?
If you are struggling to agree child care arrangements after your separation or divorce ,or you want to change your parenting plan and your ex-partner is resisting, Evolve Family Law can help you to reach an agreement or secure a child arrangement order.