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We asked Paul Slan, a lawyer and the Director of Professional Development at Gelman & Associates, some commonly asked questions about creating a parenting plan during a divorce or separation in Ontario. Please be advised that these answers are not intended as legal advice, but rather as an introductory overview on a legal subject. For legal advice regarding dispute resolution services in Ontario, we recommend consulting with an Ontario family lawyer. Contact us to schedule a consultation with Gelman & Associates today.

What Is a Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is a comprehensive agreement or Court Order that details how parents will raise their children after a divorce or separation. It often involves an overview of the time children will spend with each parent, as well as details about decision-making responsibility.

In the agreement, the separating parents may negotiate specific guidelines for which parent will be taking care of the child on weekdays, weekends, holidays, and other relevant periods. The goal is to provide parents and children with clarity as to where a child is at a given time. It may also provide a baseline for navigating future disagreements regarding parenting time.

A parenting plan also addresses decision-making responsibility. This refers to a parent’s responsibility to make significant decisions concerning a child’s health, education, and overall well-being. While a parent may make day-to-day decisions independently, major decisions may be delegated to a specific parent in accordance to their proficiency or expertise in an area. For example, if one of the parents is a doctor, a parenting plan may favour their decision-making regarding the child’s medical needs. A parent who expresses greater interest and/or knowledge in the education system may be chosen to oversee the child’s schooling. 

Joint decision-making responsibility is common in parenting plans. This means the parents collaborate in making life-shaping decisions for the child. Ideally, the parents are able to make these decisions with mutual agreement. If agreement cannot be reached, they may need to seek alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation or arbitration. 

Each case is different, just as each family is different. To learn more about parenting plans and what might be best in your individual circumstances, contact us today to schedule a consultation with an Ontario family lawyer.

The Importance of a Parenting Plan

A parenting plan can be a crucial part of preventing conflicts regarding the children after a separation or divorce. A common source of conflict, for instance, is where a child will go to school. One parent may want their child to go to public school, while the other might prefer a private school. If there is a parenting plan in place, there might be clarity as to the process by which this decision will be made. Without a parenting plan, parties at an impasse may need to seek Court intervention in order to resolve their disagreement.

Key Elements of a Comprehensive Parenting Plan 

The two key elements that should be included in every comprehensive parenting plan are the parenting schedule and decision-making responsibilities. This means when the child will be with either parent, and how the parents will share the duty of making life-altering decisions for the child.

There is room within the parenting plan to provide for specific needs and preferences. The plan may address how the parents might navigate relocation, such as setting limits on whether a parent can move outside certain boundaries. Because physical proximity may be crucial to the integrity of a co-parenting arrangement, a parent moving to another city or another country may require a revision of the parenting plan.

How to Create a Parenting Plan with Your Ex 

When it comes to creating a parenting plan with your former partner, effective communication and practical considerations are key. Here are some tips to begin collaborating:

  1. Open Communication: If you are on relatively good terms, engage in a sincere conversation with your ex. Focus on practical matters like both your and your child’s schedules, living arrangements, and school location. Remember, you don’t need legal expertise at this stage – just practical information. 
  2. Prioritize Your Child: As parents, you are best equipped to design a plan that suits the unique needs of your child or children. Collaboratively consider factors such as your child’s proximity to school as well as their extracurriculars and friend groups. Where will they be best supported by both parents as well as their community?
  3. Mediation as an Option: If it is difficult to communicate with your ex, consider mediation. A professional mediator may be able to help facilitate productive discussions, leading to mutual agreement.

By following these condensed tips and considering mediation, if necessary, you can create a parenting plan that benefits both you and your children. Contact us at Gelman & Associates to learn more.

The Court’s Role in Approving Parenting Plans

In cases where a separation agreement exists, the court may not review your parenting plan. However, if there is ongoing litigation and a parenting plan is proposed for a Court Order, the judge will examine it. The judge’s primary concern is ensuring that the plan aligns with the children’s best interests. 

A 35.1 affidavit, which addresses claims for decision-making responsibility, parenting time and contact (previously referred to as custody and access), is often required in litigation to be completed by both parents. It covers concerns such as domestic violence, involvement with children’s aid societies, and police interactions. The Court’s oversight aims to safeguard the children from any potential harm..

Modifying a Parenting Plan: Steps and Considerations

Parenting plans can be modified if there is a material change in circumstances. Most agreements include a dispute resolution clause, typically starting with mediation. If mediation fails, Court intervention may be needed. 

Material changes can include shifts in the parents’ financial situations, relocation, children’s educational or medical circumstances, and more. Where a material change impacts the parents’ abilities to adhere to the agreed-upon arrangement, the parenting plan may need to be reviewed.

Contact Gelman & Associates for a Consultation about Creating a Parenting Plan

If you would like to learn more, or discuss the specifics of your case involving parenting plan, contact us at Gelman & Associates and schedule a consultation today. We have offices across Ontario in order to provide our clients with better access to justice.

Disclaimer: For specific legal advice on your family law matter, please consult with a family law lawyer. The content in this article is not intended to act as legal advice and is instead intended to act as a general overview of a legal topic.

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