A divorce can be hard on a family. Naturally, it may involve complex, evolving emotions for each parent – feelings that may alternate between relief, grief, happiness and even shame. Meanwhile, the children involved may feel a different set of emotions, each acute but sometimes difficult to express – confusion, anger and guilt, but sometimes joy in seeing each parent thrive in a new, less contentious environment.
Your new role as a parent, therefore, becomes overseeing this transition in a way that supports the child’s best interests, shields them from the conflict, and creates a new structure under which the child can flourish. That process starts with a parenting plan.
Understand the Overview: Parenting Time and Decision-Making Responsibility
To start, let’s break down the parenting plan into two primary constituent parts, as defined in Ontario: parenting time and decision-making responsibility.
You’re probably familiar with the former. Parenting time refers to a formal schedule outlining set times when each parent is responsible for looking after the child (or, in some cases, an informal agreement to grant “reasonable” or “generous” time to one parent). Parenting time might be “equal time” parenting, which roughly splits time between each parent. Or it may involve one primary residence with allotted time for the other parent. The nature of your parenting time may follow the agreement or court order reached in the divorce.
Decision-making responsibility, by contrast, refers to whom will make significant choices about the child’s education, health, culture/language, etc. As above, this role can be split, weighted toward one parent, or genuinely collaborative.
Resolve Disputes Sensibly and Professionally
The central goal throughout this process is to keep conflict away from the child(ren). Whether that’s by removing/setting aside those conflicts, or dealing with those conflicts in a sanctioned and safe environment is up to you. In either case, it’s recommended that parents seek resolution methods like mediation or collaborative law through a reputable family lawyer.
There’s only so much an online article can say on this topic. We recommend that parents seek advice from specialized family lawyers like Tailor Law, who can review the situation and ensure that the plan considers each party’s best interests.
Create a Firm but Flexible Schedule and Play to Each Parent’s Strengths
When it comes time to create a parenting plan, consider structuring your parenting time. Children don’t do well with randomness or unexpected changes; they like feeling controlled and familiar. If they’re unsure where they’re waking up tomorrow, they may feel off-balance and anxious. You can view various sample timetables for parenting time on the Government of Canada website, engineering one to fit your particular situation and lifestyle.
At the same time, this timetable needs to be a bit flexible. Children’s needs change as they grow, and so too might the schedule. Likewise, emergencies or special events may arise that require adaptation – birthdays, holidays, illnesses, etc. The key with these changes is to try and give kids some lead time, filling them in on the changes as soon as possible and explaining the reasons for the changes.
As for the decision-making responsibilities, play to each parent’s strength. This might seem like an insurmountable challenge in contentious divorces, but remember the end goal: your child’s well-being. If one parent is particularly adept at administrative tasks and communication, elect them as the point person for school issues and organization; if one parent is a gifted musician or athlete, put them in charge of pertinent extra-curricular activities, etc.
With some preparation, cooperation and professional counsel, you can craft a parenting plan that feels fair, effective and – most importantly – beneficial to your child.