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5 Things to Include in Your Parenting Agreement

Parenting, when both parents live together, is a challenge at best. Busy parents may not even realize how many day-to-day decisions they make. Separation and divorce introduce new schedules and living arrangements that require additional decisions on which parents need to agree for the wellbeing of the children. What decisions need to be made, when, and who is responsible in a co-parenting arrangement needs to be decided and documented in a parenting agreement. A parenting plan or parenting agreement describes how parents who are not living together will care for and make important decisions about their children in both homes.

A New Way to Think About Co-Parenting

Previous versions of the Divorce Act referred to “custody” of children and “access” for parents. Custody agreements could sometimes be inflexible and difficult for parents to work with, even though they were designed with the needs of children in mind. However, the Divorce Act was revised in April 2021, to include new language that focuses on parents’ shared responsibilities for parenting their children. It also recognizes the reality of how parents care for active children and manage busy lives at the same time. As a result, a parenting plan includes more information and more flexibility. In a parenting agreement, parents are free to define as much or as little of their co-parenting plan as they feel is necessary. Parents have complete control over negotiating the details of their parenting plan. While there is no prescriptive template or set of rules, there are several decision-making areas you should be sure to include in your parenting agreement.

1 Living Arrangements and Schedules

A central part of your parenting plan should be the schedule of parenting time – the time that children will be in the care of each parent. Having a structured plan in place is good for children. It also sets expectations for parents and avoids confusion and misunderstanding. Add provisions for holidays and special occasions like birthdays to the plan as well. Making these decisions in advance allows both parents to work around the schedule to make their own arrangements accordingly.

2 Parenting Principles and Philosophy

Children are adaptable; however, it can be confusing to follow one set of rules and schedules at one parent’s home and a different set when living with the other parent. Agreeing on the basics like the structure of daily routines, acceptable child care providers, and expectations for behaviour and discipline in the parenting agreement makes it easier for kids to have a similar, more consistent experience at each home.

3 Authority to Make Decisions

You’ll make many important decisions about your children, as they grow, regarding education, healthcare, childcare and exposure to new partners. In addition, there are smaller but equally important decisions about vacations, travel, extra-curricular activities and more. Your parenting agreement should include language to indicate which of these decisions needs to be made by both parents and which can be made by one or the other. Discussing and agreeing on which parent has decision-making authority and when can avoid confusion and distress, especially in emergency situations.

4 Handling Changes to the Agreement

The needs of your children will undoubtedly change over time as they grow and mature. Parents’ schedules also change due to employment, finding new partners or other changes in their situation. So, your parenting agreement should be treated as a living document that will eventually need revision to ensure it still satisfies the best interest of your kids. Provisions should be made in the document for how to handle and document the changes. It could mean that you hold a regularly scheduled review or simply include a process for proposing and negotiating changes.

5 Resolving Disagreements

Even with a parenting plan in place, there is still the potential for disputes that parents are unable or unwilling to settle on their own. Therefore any parenting plan should also include a section dedicated to dispute resolution. The agreement should spell out a process for working with a family mediator to find a solution to the disagreement, keeping the matter out of the family court system. One of the benefits of mediation is that children get to see their parents work out disagreements cooperatively. Parents benefit by being part of arriving at a solution instead of having to work around a court-ordered decision.

Parenting plans take a lot of the uncertainty and disagreement out of co-parenting arrangements. Every parenting plan is different, and there are essentially no rules. That means that parents are free to create a flexible and comfortable agreement that allows them to provide a stable, consistent environment that best meets the needs of their children.

Get help creating your parenting plan from a separation and divorce lawyer or divorce mediator. Kelly D. Jordan is a family lawyer located in Toronto, Ontario. Kelly is considered a specialist in all areas of family law mediation and can help you work towards developing a parenting plan that best serves your children.