When spouses with children separate, parenting arrangements become crucial as children need routine and consistency in their lives post-separation.
All separated spouses should have a Parenting Plan outlining parenting time with the children, each parent’s responsibilities, and all other parenting issues. This practical document can be drafted at any time in the separation process and is usually included where there is a separation agreement.
There are three key items that a Parenting Plan must address:
- Parenting Time Arrangements and the residence schedule;
- Travel and Mobility; and
- Dispute Resolution.
Parenting Time Arrangements & Detailed Residence Schedule
Parenting Plans should set out the children’s residency schedule in detail, including:
- The times and dates each parent is scheduled to have the children in their care;
- Rules regarding communication about parenting time schedules and arrangements;
- Guidelines for pick up and drop off responsibilities;
- A holiday schedule; and
- Other terms regarding parenting time, for instance, make-up time, right of first refusals, communication between parents regarding parenting time schedules, major and minor decision-making for the children.
Having these items set out in your parenting plan provides a guideline of your rights and obligations with respect to care of your children and can help clear up uncertainties in your day-to-day parenting.
Travel and Mobility Issues
When a separated parent travels with their children, they will usually need to obtain the other parent’s consent for the trip. The travelling parent must also provide the other parent with a detailed itinerary for the trip in advance of any travel.
A parenting plan should address these travel-related issues by setting out guidelines for:
(1) When the travelling parent must advise of the trip;
(2) By when the non-travelling parent must provide a notarized travel consent;
(3) The details provided by the travel consent;
(4) Which parent will pay the costs associated with travel consent; and
(5) By when the itinerary must be provided.
Mobility refers to the right of a parent to move or relocate with their child. A parenting plan should also address mobility issues including:
- Whether the parties will continue living close to one another or in the same community;
- Restricting the parent with primary residence for the children from relocating from more than a certain distance of where they currently reside without the other parent’s consent or court order; and
- The amount of notice a parent seeking to relocate with the children must give the other.
As children grow, their needs will change quickly and often. A parenting plan should flexible and account for this inevitability by including a review mechanism for the plan’s terms. These review mechanisms are also called dispute resolution clauses.
The dispute resolution section of a parenting plan will address the steps to be taken by the parties when there is a disagreement with respect to any aspect of the plan. These provisions also set out the alternative dispute resolution process to be used when the parties are unable to resolve matters on their own. For example, parties can agree that if they cannot resolve the disagreement between themselves, they may go to mediation with a parenting coordinator, who may or may not have binding authority. Should mediation fail, the parties may either proceed to binding arbitration or one may commence a court application.
Parenting plans with a clear review and modification process can discourage unreasonable attempts to change parenting agreements without notice. Having such certainty about your parental rights and obligations lets you focus on what matters most: parenting your children.