When you have children and you and your spouse have separated, one of the sources of ongoing friction and conflict between former spouses is how to parent your children.
In fact, the further along you read this article, the more you’ll agree on the vital importance of using straightforward, specific guidelines on how each spouse should parent their children and communicate clearly with the other parent about their children.
Here’s the critical question: How do you solve this problem of parenting issues and conflict about how to raise your children?
One excellent answer is to prepare and draft an effective parenting plan. A well-crafted parenting plan can avoid or minimize many parenting problems after separation by setting out specific guidelines on how each parent should raise their children.
You should consider incorporating a solid parenting plan in a separation agreement that you negotiate with your spouse.
When you work closely with an experienced family law and divorce lawyer, you can quickly and easily get an excellent parenting plan and separation agreement.
I have provided a sample parenting plan template below for your use. This parenting plan covers the critical areas of decision-making, regular dental care, health care, emergencies, school activities, sporting activities, travel with the children, passports, relocation, and the dispute resolution process.
How to Make Sure Your Parenting Plan Will Work
The sample parenting plan set out below is based on successful co-parenting.
You know you have a basis for successful co-parenting when you can answer “yes” to these three questions:
- Is there a sufficient degree of co-operation and communication between the parents that they can work well enough together to make decisions that are in their children’s best interests?
- Has there been a positive history of day-to-day decisions between the parties and does there exist a manageable level of civil communications that meets the children’s needs?
- Are there very few concerns that a parent will make unilateral decisions or involve the children unnecessarily in disputes between parents?
Parents must be able to co-parent effectively despite their differences. Children benefit tremendously when both parents are fully engaged in their care.
Ontario family law is very practical in developing guidelines when parents truly love their children but the conflict between the parents has serious negative consequences for the children.
In these circumstances, the courts have recognized that the question to be determined is whether the nature, extent and frequency of the conflict between the parents is such that the conflict is impacting or likely to impact on the well-being of the children.
If the evidence indicates that the parties have been able to shelter the children from the conflict reasonably well and put the children’s interests ahead of their own when necessary, co-parenting will be successful and your parenting plan will succeed as well.
In short, the question is whether a reasonable measure of communication and co-operation is in place and is achievable in the future so that the best interests of the children can be ensured on an ongoing basis.
As well, the Ontario Court of Appeal has clearly stated that one parent cannot create conflict and problems with the other parent by engaging in unreasonable conduct, impeding access, marginalizing the other parent, or by any other means and then claim that they should make all the decisions in the children’s lives on the basis of lack of co-operation and communication.
The court recently explained the type of situation in which a parenting plan for co-parenting would be successful:
- I find that this is an appropriate case in which to make an award for joint custody in order to create and maintain a balance of power between the parents. And I do so with considerable optimism. Each of the parties is a caring, capable and committed parent. Each is willing and able to provide the children with guidance and education, the necessaries of life and in this case, provide for G.’s special needs. Each plays a unique and complimentary role in the lives of their children. It is the court’s view that the parents can, and will make better decisions together, and their sons will greatly benefit from a more balanced parenting relationship.
Sample Ontario Parenting Plan Template
- We agree that we will be both involved in all major decisions respecting our children’s upbringing.
- Major decisions include issues concerning our children’s education, health, religion, day care, extracurricular activities, and their general welfare.
- In the event of any disagreement between us regarding a major decision pertaining to either or both of our children, we agree to follow the dispute resolution process outlined below.
- Minor day-to-day parenting decisions are made by each parent independently during their own parenting time as long as such decisions do not impact on the other parent’s time with the children. When minor decisions do impact on the other parent’s time with our children, then that parent will participate jointly in the decision-making.
Regular Health and Dental Care
- The parent booking an appointment will inform the other parent in a timely manner. The parent who is caring for the children during the week that the appointment falls is responsible for taking the children. She or he will inform the other parent of the results. Both parents are welcome to attend these appointments.
- Each parent is free to individually access the health care professionals treating the children.
- The children’s health cards and immunization records will travel with the children between the two homes.
- Each parent will be responsible for providing emergency medical and dental care during their own parenting time. Each parent is to notify the other parent as soon as reasonably possible of any illness requiring medical attention, or any emergency involving our children.
- The parents agree to leave with each other instructions on how they can be reached in case of emergency.
- In urgent situations regarding our children at school, we will do the following:
- If the non-residential parent (of the week) is contacted by the school regarding the need for one or both of our children to be picked up for any reason (for example, illness or a snowstorm), then that parent will try to contact the residential parent.
- If the residential parent is contacted, then it is his or her responsibility to pick up the child at school and to care for the child.
- However, if the residential parent cannot be contacted, then the non-residential parent will pick up the child at school, care for the child, and leave a message for the residential parent regarding the situation. Once the residential parent becomes aware of this situation, it is his or her responsibility to care for the child.
- If the child is ill and is at the home of the non-residential parent, then the residential parent, with input from the non-residential parent, will make the decision whether to have the child return to his or her home that day.
School Events, Extracurricular Activities and Meetings
- We consider it to be important to our children we both are frequently present at their school events, extracurricular activities, and any meetings pertaining to either or both of our children, regardless of their regular schedule.
- When one of our children is participating in an activity (for example, a soccer game), the residential parent that week will take the child to the activity, and, by mutual agreement, the other parent may have the option to spend one-on-one time with the non-participating child. The parents will make such arrangements together prior to talking with the children.
- If the residential parent is unable to take the child to an extracurricular activity, then that parent will first ask the other parent if he or she is available to do so. If that parent is unable to do so, then the parent initiating the request is responsible for making appropriate arrangements.
Parents’ Communication About Our Children
- We will communicate by log book and electronic mail. We will correspond in a respectful manner that addresses child-related issues only. The parent who is invited to respond will do so in a timely manner (even if the parent is simply saying he or she is unable to respond within the suggested timeline, and will get back to the other parent by a specific date.)
- Information sent home with the children from school will be shared between the parents in a timely manner.
Travel with the Children
- The parent planning to travel with the children will let the other parent know of the plans as soon as possible and request any document required, including a letter of permission. Requests to travel with the children will not be unreasonably withheld.
- The parents together will initiate the process to obtain the children’s own passports when the parents have obtained the necessary documentation regarding their separation.
- The children’s passports, birth certificates, and social insurance cards will be kept in a safety deposit box. Both parents will have keys to the safety deposit box. We will inform the other parent when we will be accessing the documents.
- The documents will be promptly returned to the safety deposit box following each use, and the other parent will be notified that they have been returned.
- We both agree that it is very important to our children that they have easy and uninterrupted access to both parents until completion of high school.
- However, in the event of unforeseen circumstances which involve a relocation of either parent, we agree that we will discuss together, or attend mediation if either believes that would be helpful, the issue of making any necessary changes to the Parenting Plan which are in the best interests of the children. The parent who is relocating will discuss the relocation at least 90 days in advance with the other parent.
Dispute Resolution Process
- If a dispute occurs about any of the terms of this Parenting Plan, or any other issue regarding the children, we agree first to make a reasonable attempt to resolve the dispute between ourselves, including seeking any professional consultation which may be appropriate.
- In the event that we are unable to reach an agreement, after having made a reasonable attempt to resolve the issue or issues, we will attend mediation within fifteen (15) days from the time that the parent initiating the mediation has informed the other parent in writing of this intent. (We realize that the timeline of 15 days may be minimally extended to accommodate the mediator’s schedule.) The parents will equally share the cost of mediation.
- However, if mediation fails or should a decision be required on an urgent basis, then either parent may proceed with an application to a Court of competent jurisdiction to determine the matter in issue.
How To Get a Successful Parenting Plan in Ontario
Imagine, for a moment, it’s several months from today and you have settled your family law issues, especially your parenting plan with your former spouse.
Does it get any better than that? I doubt it!
You owe it yourself and your children to work out a great parenting plan for your children.
You’re probably wondering how you can actually create a successful parenting plan when you and your spouse are not getting along at the moment.That thinking is to be expected in your separation or divorce.
The key is whether you and your spouse can put your children’s interests first, ahead of your own interests. If you and your spouse can reach a place in which you can communicate clearly and respectfully with each other about your children, you can then prepare an effective parenting plan.
With every passing minute, your children need you to be the best parent you can be in these difficult circumstances. This means you have to put in a real effort to create an effective parenting plan for the well-being of your children.
Here’s an important fact for you: You will dramatically increase the odds of getting this effective parenting plan whenyou get the advice of an experienced family law and divorce lawyer.
Call Thomas O’Malley, a dedicated and skillful family lawyer, today at (905) 434-8837 to prepare and draft a successful and effective parenting plan for you and your children. You will be glad you did!