How To Create A Parenting Plan
Are you separating and you have children? You need a Parenting Plan.
Creating a Parenting Plan is one of the most useful things you can do to prepare yourself, your ex and your children for the ebb and flow of life after separation. It can also be one of the most challenging.
Here we walk through what a Parenting Plan is for, how to create one, and what to do if it won’t work for you.
What is a Parenting Plan?
It’s a written document that parents make covering the practical aspects of parenting when they separate and/or divorce. It underpins all parenting arrangements as you and your ex move into a co-parenting relationship.
The plan exists to give each parent and their children clarity about when they will spend time together and what responsibilities each has, including what will happen on special occasions, such as birthdays and Christmas. It can also include principles both parents agree to when making future decisions about the children. Cafcass has a useful template here.
Creating a Parenting Plan is easiest when both you and your children’s other parent are both ready to work together for the best interests of your family. That might be at the start of your separation, or it might be a little further down the road once the dust has settled.
What matters is your willingness and intention to create a plan that works for everyone involved – that includes both of you, your children, and anyone else mentioned in the plan, such as grandparents.
You can create a plan either by sitting over a coffee or over the telephone or via Facetime or Zoom. Since the Coronavirus lockdown, we’ve all got proficient with the technology – even our older family members can use it! Face to face contact is often best if possible, as you can see the other parent’s reactions to your suggestions.
Get your children involved
If your children are old enough, it helps to get them involved. They are more likely to feel valued and to adhere to the plan if their opinions have been taken into account. But remember that the final decisions rest with you – the parents. Let your children know from the outset you’d both like to know their preferences, but you can’t promise to fulfil them all.
It can be easiest to have a two-stage planning meeting if you’re involving the children. One with all of you together, gathering ideas. Then a second meeting just with you and your ex where you agree what’s workable.
Get support to write your plan
If creating a plan feels challenging, consider using your family mediation session to help you work it out. Sometimes the support of an independent third-party is just what’s needed to help you reach an agreement because they have no emotional attachment to the outcome. They won’t take sides.
It may take several meetings or iterations and some trial and error for you both to agree on a Parenting Plan and that is ok. What’s important is that you are both comfortable with it and it works for your lifestyle, and your ex’s.
Set yourself up for success
Parenting is one of the biggest causes of conflict in the divorce and separation process. To ensure you have a plan that’s fit for purpose you both need to be in a good emotional state. Tired and frustrated? Don’t do it!
Remember, a parenting plan is about coming up with a schedule and principles that are in the best interests of your children. Your job is to listen with undivided attention and respond calmly in a measured way. Ranting, shouting and talking over one another is a recipe for disaster and a waste of time for both of you.
Listening means hearing what the other person is saying, not just waiting for your opportunity to shout them down. Where possible, validate the thoughts of the other person even if you know their idea isn’t workable. For example:
“Thank you for offering to pick up [child] on a Thursday evening. That’s really kind. They have to be at [activity] straight after and I’m already taking [child]. How about you see them both on Friday?”
The more solution-focussed you can both be, the quicker and easier it will be to create your plan.
Recognise that plans will change over time
The Parenting Plan can be as flexible as you need it to be but must be aimed at supporting your children based on their individual needs, personalities, age, gender, and preferences. It’s inevitable that parenting a 6-year-old will look and feel very different to parenting a 16-year-old!
It can help to have some principles written into the plan to cover future scenarios. For example, you might include points like:
‘Both parents need to agree if [child] has overnight stays with friends or on school trips’ or
‘We will review this plan with a mediator if needed because financial situations change.’
Parenting Plans in high conflict situations
Creating a Parenting Plan in a high conflict situation is often fraught with difficulty. Sometimes it just isn’t possible. Parenting Plans can be a useful focus where two parents are struggling to communicate through hurt and anger, but there must be a foundation of respect and a genuine desire to put the needs of the children and the wider family first.
When anger is coupled with the desire to manipulate, punish or frustrate a smooth transition into separated parenting, trying to draw up a Parenting just becomes another source of conflict.
If this is your situation, you need to let go of the Parenting Plan. High conflict parenting is difficult enough as it is. Recognise when this is not possible and keep your boundaries firm. Use apps such as Our Family Wizard to manage your communication, including requests for changes to the contact arrangements.
What is parallel parenting?
If co-parenting and Parenting Plans aren’t something that you can consider right now (or ever), you may need to consider a parallel parenting approach.
Parallel parenting means you parent your way and the children’s other parent does it their way. You might disagree with their approach – to bedtime, homework, discipline, food… but in the absence of safeguarding issues, you need to let it be. Children are adaptable, and as long as they are not at risk of harm, and you are both providing them with loving care, they will soon understand the rules when you’re in charge and the rules when their other parent is. And it’s far better for them to have different, peaceful households than be caught in power games or conflict.
The Absolute Academy is full of women navigating divorce and parenting challenges. If there’s a question you have, I can pretty much guarantee someone else has been through similar! I’m in there for Q&A and zoom gatherings every week, and the ladies in their support each other to cope with the inevitable lows of divorce, as well as celebrate the wins of a newly liberated life. If you’d like to be part of that supportive community and benefit from my legal knowledge as well, or know someone who does, join us!
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com