One of the most difficult discussions that parents may have as part of their separation or divorce is what happens to the children; knowing what to discuss and where to start can be very difficult.
Parents may tend to focus on the ‘every other weekend and one night in the week’ scenario, rather than the entirety of arrangements for their children.
By using a parenting plan as a discussion tool to begin with, parents can use the questions asked in the plan to talk about what arrangements would work best for them and their children.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is simply a written record of the agreement made by parents that set out how they would like to continue parenting their children after separation or divorce and what the practical arrangements are.
Why Use a Parenting Plan?
Using a parenting plan provides parents with a structure when they discuss making practical and workable arrangements for their children.
There are many advantages to using a parenting plan, not least because it helps keep parents out of court and focused on their children; and unlike a court order, which is set in stone, a parenting plan allows for flexible arrangements and can be reviewed at appropriate times – for example, when a child moves from nursery to primary school. Other benefits include:
Helping to keep both parents’ legal fees down, as you are discussing the arrangements between you and not using the solicitors to communicate with your partner or spouse.
Helping to create a stable environment for your children as there is reduced conflict between you and your child’s other parent.
Helping parents focus on work together for their children, which shows your children that you are working hard to put their interests and needs first.
Parents who have invested in coming to agreements about the arrangements for children feel more empowered and are far more likely to stick to the plan.
If parents wish, their children can have an input into the arrangements so that any considerations the children would like taken into account can be heard – for example, having friends to sleep over at both their homes and, in the case of older children, having new freedoms.
This is not the same as allowing children to decide or choose the arrangements themselves – children should never have that burden of responsibility placed on them, but they should be able to have a say and make some suggestions as to what they would like.
A parenting plan can include specific important events for your family – the annual summer barbeque that Uncle Mike has each year or Granny’s Boxing Day feast, for example. All families are different; a parenting plan takes this into account and allows parents and families to include these all-important family gatherings and traditions.
Who is the Plan for?
The parenting plan is useful for all parents who are separating or divorcing, but it’s especially for parents who wish or intend to put together a proposal regarding the child arrangements for the other parent to consider whether that’s for informal discussion between them or for mediation sessions.
A parent who is considering applying to Court is also required to submit a completed parenting plan along with the application.
This shows the Court that you have put a great deal of thought into what it is you are asking the Court to consider and that you have a very clear idea of what you think are the best arrangements for your children.
Once you have an agreement with the other parent, you can also formalise the agreed arrangements for children by signing a copy of the parenting plan, which sets out the final arrangements.
This signed, final copy not only formalises your agreement but can also act as an important guide to refer to if any issues are raised in the future over what the agreed arrangements are.
And remember, the arrangements don’t have to set in stone – there may be events or life changes such as a new job or moving to a new town that mean any carefully thought-out arrangements are no longer relevant, and they need to be revised and changed to reflect your new circumstances.
I have written this parenting plan specifically to help parents have positive and constructive discussions about parenting after separation or divorce. I really wanted it to be something that facilitates conversation and dialogue between parents and at the same time guide them a little by making some useful suggestions as part of the questions posed.
I also am a firm believer in keeping parents out of court whenever possible, and empowering and enabling them to work together, because it’s not better just for their children – it’s better for parents too.
Here is your free printable parenting plan – Downloadable parenting plan document from Oratto
About Ruth Langford, F.Isnt.Pa
Ruth is a Qualified Paralegal specialising in Family Law in both England/Wales and Scotland, with a particular interest in the law as it applies to children. She has been advising and assisting people going through family break-up for over 9 years.
Ruth is co-author of The Family Law A to Z – A, the reference book for litigants & students; and is an established and published writer, and has written for publications in the UK, Australia and the USA.
She has made a number of appearances on radio and television, and been featured in a number of media and magazine articles. In 2014, she was a consultant for a major story line on an award-winning television drama series.
Ruth is an elected Fellow of the Institute of Paralegals, a member of the Association of Lawyers for Children and was one of the first UK women to join Leading Women 4 Shared Parenting. In October 2015, she was awarded the honour of Jordan’s Family Law Paralegal of the Year.
Ruth previously worked for Wikivorce and now works for Oratto, an innovative client-led business. Oratto is about helping people choose the right lawyer for their particular issue as well as providing a quick and easy route to engage with a legal practitioner.
She lives in Hampshire with her husband, daughter, and a variety of animals. In her spare time, she enjoys crochet, walking and photography.