A ‘Parenting Plan’ refers generally to the way in which parents will raise their children following separation and divorce. Most fundamentally it means what amount of time children will spend with what parent. Primary care or residential care and control are terms that are used to describe a parent that has the children in his/her care predominantly or a large majority of the time. When one parent has primary care of the children, access is the legal term that refers to the time the other parent has care of the children. Most recently, however, courts, family law and divorce lawyers have begun moving away from the labels of primary care, residential care and control and access, instead favouring a simple description of what time children spent with what parent. Shared parenting is the legal term used when children spend roughly equal amounts of time with each parent.
Parents are strongly encouraged to come to an agreement about a parenting plan/schedule. Experts agree that children of divorce thrive provided that they are protected from parental conflict. In other words it is the exposure to conflict between parents that is the best predictor of how children will cope and not whether their parents are separated or divorced. Children of parents that protect them from conflict will flourish and prosper, regardless of whether or not those children come from separated or divorced parents.
As long as both parents agree on a parenting plan that they believe is in the best interests of their children the court will not interfere with their decision. In the event the parents cannot agree on a schedule then a court, arbitrator or parenting coordinator/arbitrator will make that decision for the family using the best interests test. That is, the result will be based on what the decision-maker considers to be in the best interests of the children and not on the wishes of either parent.
The type of parenting regime that is put in place on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis usually depends on the age and stage of development of the children and the employment obligations of the parents. It is generally considered in the best interests of young children to have frequent but shorter visits whereas school age children can handle longer periods of time away from each parent.
On a practical basis there is a lot to consider when developing a parenting plan. A good plan will do far more than simply set out the day-to-day schedule it will provide your children with security and consistency and protect them from conflict. By mapping out how you and your ex will manage the business of parenting your children into the future, clear procedures and expectations are developed and conflict is reduced. While parents are always free to deviate from their plan by agreement, a good parenting plan provides a rulebook to fall back on in the event of any disagreement.
At Jones Divorce Law LLP our divorce lawyers study comprehensive parenting plans and have a list of things to consider when developing your parenting guidelines. Take advantage of our knowledge and experience and allow us to help you establish a parenting plan that will work for you and your family.
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