What Is A Parenting Plan? How Do You Make It Work For Your Kids?

a chid's hand on father's hand

When a marriage breaks down, kids usually spend 50% of the time with each parent. With changing schedules, parents often find themselves in quarrels. All of this can be avoided by creating a parenting plan document. It is particularly useful in the first few years of separation and when kids are too young to make a choice. 

In Ontario, the parenting plan document is governed either by the Children’s Law Reform Act or the Divorce Act. According to both, a parenting plan is a document that contains information about parenting time, decision-making responsibility, or contact to which both parents must agree. It isn’t recommended to high conflict parents as this document is based on open communication, trust, and collaboration. 

What is included in a parenting plan? 

A parenting plan lets you clearly define each parent’s responsibilities towards the kids. Things you can include are: 

  • Custody Arrangements: Specifies whether parents have joint custody or if one parent has sole custody, it can include when and where the other parent will get to meet the children.
  • Visitation Schedule: When and how the children will spend time with each parent, including weekdays, weekends, holidays, and vacations.
  • Decision-Making: How parents will make major decisions regarding the children’s education, extra curricular activities, health care, and religious upbringing.
  • Communication Guidelines: How parents will communicate with each other and with the children about schedules, changes, and important issues.
  • Financial Support: Details arrangements for child support, including how much, how often, and who will be responsible for additional expenses like medical care and extracurricular activities.
  • Transportation and Exchange: How the children will be transported between parents, to school, and any other places. 
  • Conflict Resolution: Suggests methods for resolving disagreements about the parenting plan, possibly including mediation or counselling.
Mother and daughter hugging in living room

How to create a parenting plan document? 

Step 1: Prioritize Your Child’s Best Interests

As a parent, your role goes beyond providing your kids with basic physical needs such as nutrition, shelter, and healthcare. You also have to meet their emotional needs, one of them being a stable relationship with the other parent. You and your ex-spouse should work together to create a plan that works for their age, personality, and any special needs they may have.

Step 2: Design a Feasible Parenting Schedule

Depending on your child’s age and schedule, you can plan a parenting time schedule. Most families are recommended a 50-50 parenting schedule, which can be divided as: 

  • Bi-weekly – one week with one parent and next week with the other
  • 2-2-5-5 rotation – child spends two days each with a parent and then five days with each parent. The 3-3-4-4 rotation works similarly. 
  • 2-2-3 rotation – child spends two days with one parent, two days with the other, and then 3 days with the first one, and the cycle repeats. This is a good schedule for young kids or for divorced couples that live close by. 

Step 3: Establish Clear Communication Channels

You may use co-parenting apps like OurFamilyWizard to keep communication clear and organised. On these apps, you can track everything from medical appointments to school events and add any last-minute changes to the schedule. If you need to make some urgent changes, don’t wait till the last minute to talk about it. 

Step 4: Agree on Decision-Making Processes

Most parents argue about their child’s education, medical care, religious practice, and cultural influences and that’s why a parenting plan is important. Also, make sure you have a plan in place for handling emergency situations. 

Step 5: Address Financial Responsibilities

Even if one parent pays child support, both parents will need to take care of other expenses. Create a detailed expenditure report for extra costs including extracurricular activities or unexpected medical expenses and review it at the end of the month. You don’t want either parent to not have money to make immediate payments as that affects the child’s quality of life. 

Step 6: Keep Your Goals in Focus

Review the plan regularly to ensure they meet your parenting goals. While the initial days of creating the document and adjusting to a new schedule are stressful, your children will appreciate the struggle when they grow up. As far as personal goals go, focus on building a cooperative co-parenting relationship. If needed, involve legal counsel as they can de-escalate the situation and offer the right guidance. Our family lawyers at Sterling Law in Brampton are here to provide you legal guidance for all kinds of family law matters. Please get in touch with us for a free first consultation (up to 15 minutes only).

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