Creating a parenting plan
Separating parents often come into mediation asking me if I can help them to put together a parenting plan. Mediation can be a good place to have discussions about how you wish to co-parent if you are separating.
Here are a few ideas to get you started or to think about before coming into mediation:
- What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a document that states your agreements regarding how you wish to co-parent your children.
- Before you start
Before you start working on the actual plan, it can be helpful to spend a few moments thinking through what you wish for your children and what they need from you.
Try asking yourself questions like:
- What does my son or daughter need from me most now? And as they grow up? Remember that all children are individuals and may need different things.
- What kind of parent do I want to be?
- What do I want my child to be able to say about me when they are 18, or 21 (in terms of how well I handled this transition)?
If you can, try and create a guiding statement as to the kind of parent you wish to be. Or you could find a picture or a quote instead. Examples might be:
‘I want my children to feel that I will always listen to them and always be here for them, no matter what.’
‘I want to do all that I can to ensure that my children are not adversely impacted by our separation.’
‘I want my children to feel loved, supported and not to experience conflict between us.’
If you can, share these aims and guiding statements with your ex and agree a joint guiding statement.
- What goes into a parenting plan?
I have added a parenting plan template to this blog. It covers most of the issues that parents wish to consider. This doesn’t mean you have to address them all and write them up. Indeed if communication is good and you are in broad agreement about your guiding principles, then discussing many of the issues listed may be unnecessary.
Or you may feel you can discuss them as and when they arise. If this works for you, go for it. After all, most parents who live together don’t have a formal parenting plan and just work it out as they go.
But, if thinking about these issues in advance or agreeing them between you is important to you, then do it.
A good starting point is to both go through the template and confirm those decisions on which you are in agreement. You can either sit down together and do this, or you could each fill in the template and share your answers with each other. This will highlight the areas on which you disagree. These are the areas that will need more discussion. If you can’t do this between yourselves, then it can be done in mediation.
- What if my ex doesn’t want to engage in creating a parenting plan?
If your ex doesn’t want to engage in these discussions, there is nothing to stop you from listing your wishes and sharing them with your ex as a starting point, and inviting them to do the same.
If every issue is contentious, then it may be better to ‘choose your battles’ and just go for the most important ones. Even if your ex will not engage at all with discussions, getting clarity on what kind of parent you want to be will be helpful.
- Are parenting plans legally binding?
Parenting plans are not legally binding. However, where parents have engaged with the process and discussed the issues, then they tend to be ‘bought in’ to the parenting plan and are more likely to keep to it. The courts don’t want to get involved with the minutiae of parenting decisions and you are much better off working out these issues if you can.
Sometimes the plans don’t work out quite as you had hoped and so you may find it helpful to return to mediation and discuss the issues and amend the plan.
The court may be able to make an order in respect of the arrangements if you do not think that your ex will stick to the arrangements. A solicitor can advise on this if you feel it is necessary.
- Click below for our downloadable parenting template
- Further advice and sources of support