Making a parenting plan: what to consider

A parenting plan is a written document created by separated parents that outlines how they will parent their children following separation. It can include anything that the parents feel is important to the child’s life and wellbeing, as well as practical aspects that will make co-parenting possible, such as:

  • Where your children will live
  • School holidays and birthday arrangements
  • How parents will keep in touch with children
  • How ex-partners will keep in touch with each other

These are just some of the most common areas that are generally covered in parenting plans, in some cases, parenting plans can contain a much wider range of arrangements where the parents think it is necessary. The plan is tailored to your family's situation.

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Parenting plans can be changed over time, depending on how your children's needs and circumstances change as they grow older. The plan typically outlines how you and your ex partner will manage parenting your children, it can be as detailed or as basic as you want.

For help creating a parenting plan, many ex-partners benefit from family mediation services.

Why are parenting plans important?

Parenting plans are important for ensuring that both parents continue to act in the best interests of their child or children after separating. It also helps each parent understand their commitments, responsibilities, and duties of care for their child.

With a written plan, each parent knows exactly what is expected of them. This can help to reduce any potential conflict in the future, as it is clear where the responsibilities lie. This has the benefit of helping facilitate healthier communication between parents after separation. In contrast, parents without a written parenting plan might be more likely to find themselves in disagreements over such responsibilities as there is likely to be less clarity over the matters.

What to consider in your Parenting Plan

As we mentioned earlier, your parenting plan can include any activities and responsibilities that relate to your child. There are however a few common areas that are often included that might be helpful to consider.

1. The child or children’s time with each parent

Deciding upon the time that your child spends with each of you is an important part of a parenting plan. Creating a living schedule can be helpful, so both parents know where the child will be staying, and at what times. For example, it’s common for parents to split living schedules for the child by weekdays and weekends.

Deciding this can help parents understand their responsibilities in terms of when the child will be living with or visiting them. The arrangement can also help bring your child the reassurance that they will be able to spend time with both parents.

2. School holidays

It’s possible that your usual schedule will be different around the school holidays. You may want to plan what the arrangements for your child will be during the holiday periods, based on you and your ex-partner’s availability, and what will work best for your child. For example , it might work better for the child to spend more time with one parent during the holidays if their routine and schedule is better suited to the child’s needs and interests.

You’ll have a total of 13 weeks of school holidays to make arrangements throughout the year, unless your child goes to a private school, then it may differ.

Here’s a list of school holidays that you may want to schedule on the parenting agreement:

  • Autumn Half-term (Usually around the end of October)
  • Christmas Holidays (Over the Christmas and New Year period and is usually 2 weeks long)
  • February Half-term (Usually towards the end of February)
  • Easter Holidays (Around the time of Easter and is usually 2 weeks long)
  • May Half-term (Around the end of May till early June)
  • Summer Holidays (End of July till Early September and is around 6 weeks long)

You should check with your local council to find the exact days for the school holidays.

3. Birthdays and special occasions

Birthdays are an important day for any child, as well as parents. As part of the parenting plan, many separated parents agree on the arrangements for their child’s birthday - this may involve considering what the child’s wishes are. A parenting plan will help separated parents have something in place so that both parents know what they’ll be doing around the time of their child’s birthday.

The same can be said for other special occasions in the year, such as the Christmas, Easter, and Halloween periods, as well as Mother's and Father's Day. Parenting plans might address where the child will spend their time during these occasions.

4. Communication with your childrent

You can establish in the plan how each parent will keep in touch with their child. You might communicate through phone calls every other day, or perhaps you’d prefer to contact the child through daily messages? Furthermore, you can determine how you’ll communicate with your child and how frequently you’ll communicate on the parenting agreement.

5. How you’ll keep in touch with your ex partner

There might be some animosity between you and your ex partner, but it’s still important to have some form of communication for the benefit of your children. For example, if your child was in some kind of danger or emergency, communication between the parents would help ensure that the child is kept safe and well.

Having a communication plan or process in place can help ensure your child’s wellbeing in circumstances where the other parent may need to contact you, or vice versa. That being said, having an agreed communication process in place can also be helpful for day-to-day situations, such as discussing your child’s needs, transportation, and other plans.

It’s possible to come to a written arrangement on how you’ll keep in touch with your ex partner in your parenting plan.

If communication with your ex partner isn’t really an option, then some parents use a third party, for example a grandparent or a family friend may pass information between one another. Though for the child’s sake, it is generally more suitable that ex-partners communicate directly.

6. Financial support for the child

Your parenting plan may outline who will be financially responsible for certain expenses relating to the child or children. There will be several ongoing childcare costs throughout their lives, so it can be useful to agree on who will pay for certain costs as they grow older.

For example, you may want to discuss who’ll be paying for school trips, clothes, holidays, general childcare costs and other one off expenses. Some ex-partners may find this topic difficult, but discussing this in the presence of a professional child mediator can help streamline a constructive and productive conversation.

7. Child related decision-making

There are a variety of decisions that you may want to make in regard to your child or children as their parents. These decisions can be outlined and agreed upon in your parenting plan. Such decisions might include religious upbringing, for instance, deciding on whether you would like your child to be christened or not. Arrangements might also relate to medical decisions, including the kind of medications, treatments, surgery, orthodontic and long term care you’d be happy or unhappy with your child receiving.

Some parents make plans regarding the child or children’s relationship with other adults, such as their contact with grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, or parents' new partners.

As we mentioned earlier, you can make the parenting plan specific to your situation and circumstances, whatever that may look like. Your mediator will be able to guide you through the process and help you understand how parenting plans work.

Are Parenting Plans legally binding?

A parenting plan isn’t legally binding in itself, but you can make it legally binding by applying for a consent order through the family court. There are pros and cons to making the parenting plan legally binding after mediation. On one hand, the flexibility of a non-legally binding parenting plan can be beneficial if the arrangements ever need to change as the child grows older. On the other hand, some parents may feel that arrangements should be legally binding to ensure they are abided by.

The mediator can help with this process, and you can find out more about the details in our related guide: is mediation legally binding?

How mediation can help

Mediation can help separated parents focus on their children’s specific needs when coming to a parenting plan. The mediator will consider the parents’ routines and schedules and develop different options for you both to consider. Where safe and appropriate, your mediator can also explore the option of hearing from any child or young people via child inclusive mediation; this gives the child the opportunity to speak directly with the mediator and express their wishes.

In any case, the mediator’s role is to facilitate a conversation between the parents to find out more about their children and what their aspirations are, both as parents and for their children.

With professional child mediation, you’ll have help and guidance when working out a practical agreement for your child’s future.

What happens If you can’t come to an agreement

If you can’t reach a consensus on a parenting plan, then you should consider child mediation services.

It is likely that you’ll be required to prove you’ve attempted mediation by attending a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM), if you want to take the case to court.

Often mediation can be less stressful and financially draining than going through the court process.

Speak to a mediator

At Mediation First, our expert family mediators will help you put together a parenting plan through our child mediation services.

Our parent and child mediation is designed to give all parties a voice. Each parent’s goals and aspirations for their children are considered, as well as the child’s perspective. This child focussed approach to mediation helps parents reach a mutually agreed arrangement that puts the child’s needs first.

To find out more about our services, contact us or explore child mediation case studies.