Frequently Asked Questions About Parenting Plans

1. What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a written document that is made between parents. It sets out parenting arrangements that the parents feel are in their children’s best interests. It is not usually written or signed like a legal contract. It is a way for parents to figure out what parenting arrangements they think will work best with their children and to keep track of these arrangements on paper.

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2. What is the goal of a parenting plan?

The goal of a parenting plan is to minimize conflict between parents by allowing them to come up with their own arrangements for how they will parent their children. A schedule of parenting arrangements will normally deal with all issues that may come up and suggest ways to solve problems or issues that parents did not consider before.

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3. Should parents have a parenting plan?

Parenting plans are intended for parents who will both be involved in parenting their children. Whether or not it will be helpful in your situation will depend on your circumstances, the needs of your children, and the extent to which you can work with the other parent to develop the plan, and to stick with the plan once it’s developed.

It is helpful for both parents to meet with separate lawyers for advice about whether a parenting plan is a good idea for them.

Parents do not have to have a parenting plan. They are just one way for parents to figure out their arrangements. Parents can negotiate their plans for parenting in many different ways. Developing a parenting plan is just one way to negotiate.

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4. Do parents have to follow the parenting plan?

Parenting plans are normally used as a guide for parents to be able to parent through difficult times. They are meant to help parents avoid conflict and create a stable arrangement that works best for the children.

If things change, then the plan should provide a way for parents to come up with arrangements to deal with the change or problem. Parents may need to get the help of a professional, like a mediator, counselor or social worker if they are having problems. Depending on the circumstances, parents may also need legal advice or to go to court.

Parents should speak to a lawyer if they are having problems.

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5. How should a parenting plan be developed?

Parenting plans are developed by both parents deciding on these issues together, in most cases. Parents can come up with these plans on their own, or may want to get someone to help them with it. Mediators can help. Parents can also look to lawyers, social workers, clergy (like ministers, priests, rabbis) and counselors for help.

You may find a helpful resource near you by reviewing the Community Agencies & Resources section of this site.

You can click here to access Justice Canada's Parenting Plan Checklist, or click here for a tool  that can help you develop a detailed parenting plan.

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6. Can a parenting plan be made into a court order?

Yes. Parenting plans can be made into court orders. You should get legal advice as to how to do this.  Certain court processes may assist with this too, like mediation or conciliation.

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7. Should I have a court order?

You should get legal advice to help you decide whether you need a court order or not in any situation. Parenting plans are not usually enforceable in the same way as registered separation agreements or court orders.

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8. What kinds of things are put in a parenting plan?

A parenting plan usually talks about:  

  • a residence schedule (where the children will live at any time) for the children based on their needs
  • a plan for making decisions for and about the children
  • a plan for sorting out disputes and coping with any changes that occur.

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9. What are some other, more specific things, we could put in a parenting plan?
  • How will the children be dropped off and picked up?
  • How will we take part in the children’s school and recreational events?
  • What other people may take part in the children’s school and recreational events?
  • What about telephone and other contact between each parent and the child?
  • Will there be a sharing of children’s toys and other things (like sports equipment and clothes) between the two parents’ homes?
  • How will we handle situations where the children refuse to visit or want to spend time with their friends, rather than one of their parents?
  • What will we do if there is an emergency?

Parenting time with children

  • The overall parenting schedule, setting out details about drop-off and pick-up times, who will transport the children to and from visits
  • The daycare and babysitting arrangements for the child
  • How the child will contact one parent while with the other parent (phone, e-mail, pictures, skype) and when this will take place
  • How changes to the parenting schedule will be handled if something happens that you did not plan on, like the child or a parent is sick, or the weather is really bad (Will there be make-up time?  How will a child=s refusal to visit be handled?)
  • What kinds of things will require parents to notify each other (if parent is going to be late or if an activity will affect the other parent’s time with the child)?
  • Will child’s clothing and belongings move with the child? Who will buy big ticket items? Will these be shared? (Will some/all belongings move between the homes with the child? Will the child have two sets of some items? Which things will each parent buy for the child?)

Special occasions: Parenting time for vacation, holidays and special days

  • Parenting time for holidays – March break, summer vacation, in-services, holidays
  • Parenting time for other special days (birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day)

Travel

  • If/how notice will be given to the other parent regarding plans to travel with the child (Is notice to be given? What type of information has to be shared? Flight itineraries? Contact information to reach the other parent child while they’re away?)
  • Written consent letter for the child to travel out of the country - you can find a sample consent letter here
  • Passport for the child – signing consents to get the Passport, and who will be responsible for keeping it

Health and Dental care

  • How will parents make decisions about medical or dental care
  • Emergency medical treatment (How will parents get a hold of each other in an emergency? Who will deal with the emergency? Does each have signing rights for medical care in emergencies?)
  • Medical and dental check-ups (Who books the appointments? Who takes the child to the appointment?)
  • Who will care for the child when they are ill?
  • Health card arrangements (Who will hang onto the child=s health card? Make copies?)
  • Access to the child's medical records (Who can have access to medical records? Be allowed to speak with doctors or dentists?)
  • Health care insurance arrangements (Is there medical insurance for the child? Who will obtain it? Who submits any insurance claims? How will parents be reimbursed?)
  • Who will make arrangements for, take the child to, and pay for  any special needs or appointments for the child (for example, braces, counseling, therapy, glasses, prescriptions)

Education

  • Where will the child go to school? What kinds of programs will the child be involved in? What about any extra help or tutoring, or special education?
  • Who will have access to the child’s school records?
  • Who will attend parent-teacher meetings and school events?
  • School trips (who can sign permission slips, who will pay for trips, will one of the parents help chaperone trips?)
  • Post-secondary education (choice, payment towards, RESPs)

Extra-curricular activities

  • What type of activities will the child be involved in? How many? Who will pay for them?
  • How will the child get to and from their activities? Can one parent schedule activities during the other parent=s time with the child?
  • Who takes the child to an activity that is far away?
  • Unexpected costs (who pays for these?)

Religion & culture

  • What cultural or religious events, education or activities will the child attend, if any?
  • If applicable, will the child receive schooling or instruction in another language?

Grandparents, extended family and new partners

  • Will the child have visits with extended family members? How will they communicate with the children (phone, e-mail, skype)?
  • What if special events for one family happen during the other parent’s time with the child (how will you deal with these, notice time, making up visiting time)?
  • When/how will new partners be introduced to the children?

Communication between parents

  • What types of information need to be shared and how (for example, phone, text, e-mail, communication book)
  • How often does information get shared?
  • Contact information in case of emergency

Making changes to parenting arrangement including changes in parenting schedule

  • What process will parents use for making changes to the schedule?

Solving problems 

  • How will disagreements be resolved?

Moving Away

In most cases, moving the child requires the consent of the other parent or a court order. You may face possible criminal charges if you move your child without permission or without a court order allowing you to move the child. 

  • What type of notice will the other parent be given about the move, and how far in advance? Does the notice need to be in writing? 
  • How changes to the parenting arrangements will be dealt with in the event of a move

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