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Parenting plans are crucial tools for all parents in any custody situation. They document the agreed upon parenting arrangements governing the parents’ rights and involvement with their children. It is critical that parents have a practical plan tailored to their children’s best interests and their lifestyles since these plans dictate who a child lives with, how access is arranged, and who can make important decisions such as medical care and education. Regardless of how well you and your child’s other parent get along, there are 5 things every parenting plan should include so that everyone is on the same page.

Living and Access Schedules

Setting out a specific schedule detailing when each parent has a child, for how long, including pick-up and drop off information can be especially useful for planning outings, activities, and special days with your children. Additionally, having a structured schedule will give your children a consistent and stable routine.  A detailed document outlining dates, times, general locations, and parents’ contact information is especially advantageous in cases of emergency. Including a holiday schedule can also help prevent conflicts between the parents regarding holiday access; there will be no reason to fight over who gets a child on certain special occasions as the dispute is pre-settled and resolved by the plan.

Decision Making Authority

Parents can save themselves time and prevent confusion by outlining who has decision making authority with regards to important parenting decisions like medical care, education, or travelling. Knowing whether you can decide a certain matter alone or if you need the other parent’s consent can be crucial in time-sensitive emergencies.  Specifying who has final authority over specific subjects can also preclude future conflict between parents.

Parenting Guidelines and Principles

Having agreed upon parenting guidelines and principles for your interactions with your child and their other parent is especially practical in minimizing hostility or antagonism; every party will know what to expect and what is expected of them. Parents adhering to the same expectations and principles will give their children consistency and certainty regarding their boundaries and daily routines. These guidelines should cover topics such as:

  • Rules for the child’s behaviour and discipline
  • Structure of daily routines
  • Methods of communication for the parents on issues relating to parenting
  • How the children’s emotional, physical, and psychological needs will be addressed
  • Any specifics regarding diet, health, medication
  • Mutually acceptable child care providers

Procedure to Change the Parenting Plan

As children grow and their needs evolve overtime, parenting plans require regular adjustment and review to ensure that the arrangements still meet the child’s best interests. Some parents may want to include clauses marking regular intervals where they will sit together, either with or without a mediator/arbitrator, to discuss any changes that need to be made. These reviews usually occur once every few years, or at certain age milestones of the children.

Sometimes a parent’s life circumstances can change rather suddenly due to new employment opportunities, unemployment, or other reasons. You may want to include provisions in your parenting plan that provide a procedure by which a parent can propose a change to the existing plan to respond to the change in their situation.

Incorporation of such review and change clauses gives parents certainty regarding their rights and obligations for the duration. It also helps to discourage any unwarranted attempts to change the existing plan absent certain situations that the parties have already agreed upon.

Dispute Resolution Clause

Possibly the most important clause any parenting plan should include is a dispute resolution clause outlining how parents will resolve plan-related disagreements they cannot settle themselves. Rather than going to court, dispute resolution clauses direct parents to take the matter to a third-party mediator or arbitrator. This third-party will assist parents in resolving the disagreement, or if a resolution cannot be reached, can make a decision for them in the children’s best interests. Mediation and arbitration not only save parents money in legal costs, but also provide an alternative, neutral and non-hostile avenue for conflict resolution outside of the court system. Additionally, as these methods promote cooperation, they reinforce the parents’ skills and awareness of their ability to communicate effectively with each other for the sake of their children.