A Parenting Plan: What is it and why do I need it?
When parents with children living at home separate, they must develop a parenting plan. A good parenting plan helps parents transition to a co-parenting relationship with each other and assists the children in adjusting to post-separation life. “Co-parenting” is the term frequently used by the legal system to refer to parenting after separation.
1. What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a written agreement between two parents that will set out how they will co-parent their children after separation and divorce. A parenting plan has two main components: a parenting schedule and a method for parents to make significant decisions affecting the child. These decisions are referred to as “parental responsibilities”. The term “parenting arrangements” covers both parenting schedules and parenting responsibilities.
By default, both parents are guardians of their children after separation, and parenting responsibilities are shared with each other. This means that parents need to agree on important decisions for their children. However, parents can agree to divide parenting responsibilities so that they each have exclusive decision-making authority over certain areas, or they can agree to give one parent a “tie breaking vote” in the event that they cannot reach agreement on a decision.
2. How do I make a parenting plan?
There are many tools available to help co-parents develop a parenting plan. As a first step, it’s helpful if the co-parents do some research into topics that should be included. A good place to start is the Department of Justice Canada website, which has a parenting plan checklist and a parenting plan tool that provides general information: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/parent/ppt-ecppp/form/form.html
While parents do not need to use a lawyer to create a written parenting plan, it is a good idea to consult with a family lawyer before finalizing your agreement. A family lawyer can provide you with legal advice about the topics to be included in the agreement, and will often have suggestions or recommendations about other items that should be included.
3. What if we can’t agree on a parenting plan?
The British Columbia Family Law Act and the Divorce Act prioritize and encourage agreement between co-parents on parenting arrangements. As a general rule, parents are in a better position than the courts to decide what type of parenting arrangements are in their child’s best interests.
However, there are times when parents are unable to reach an agreement with each other on their own. When they disagree on parenting arrangements, co-parents can meet with a family lawyer to get advice on the different options they have to finalize the parenting plan. These options can include negotiation between the parents with or without a lawyer, mediation with a certified family law mediator, and court applications. While family lawyers have an ethical obligation to encourage out of court agreements between parties, there are situations where a court application is necessary.
Finalizing a parenting plan enables co-parents to establish a new normal after separation, with their children’s best interests at the center. If you need to make a parenting plan with your child’s co-parent, you should contact a family lawyer to provide you with the information you need in order to finalize your parenting arrangements.
© Krista Lidstone, Linley Welwood LLP
The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice. Readers should seek legal advice in relation to their own specific circumstances.