Do I need a parenting plan?

Lisa Pepper
parents with a child

Table of Contents

I am often asked by a divorcing client:  Do I need an Order recording the arrangements for the children?  My answer is:  Not if you can agree on them.  It is preferable however to have something agreed upon and written down; it could be useful evidence if there was a disagreement later.

The Children Act 1989 was amended in 2014:- Residence and Contact Orders were no more and a presumption of shared parenting was inserted.  This has encouraged a cultural shift that was already underway, recognising the importance of both parents in a child’s life

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan also known as a shared parenting plan or parental agreement is a detailed document that outlines the agreements between parents or legal guardians regarding their children’s custody, visitation, and care. It acts as a guide for co-parenting, placing the children’s best interests at the forefront after separation or divorce.

Parenting plans cover various aspects of child custody, including:

  1. Schedule for custody and visitation: It specifies when and where the child will spend time with each parent, encompassing regular visits, holidays, vacations, and special occasions.
  2. Decision-making authority: The plan addresses who has the responsibility of making important decisions concerning the child’s education, healthcare, religion, extracurricular activities, and other significant matters.
  3. Guidelines for communication and co-parenting: It outlines how parents will communicate regarding the child’s well-being and share information. This includes methods of communication, frequency of updates, and protocols for conflict resolution.
  4. Child maintenance: While not always part of the parenting plan, it may involve financial arrangements for supporting the child, including who provides financial assistance and the amount contributed.
  5. Parental responsibilities: It clarifies the responsibilities of each parent regarding day-to-day care, transportation, involvement in the child’s activities, and specific parenting tasks.
  6. Dispute resolution: The plan may incorporate provisions for resolving disagreements or making changes to the parenting arrangements in the future, such as through mediation or legal assistance.

Parenting plans aim to foster cooperation, stability, and consistency in the child’s life, providing a nurturing and supportive environment. While the details of each plan may vary based on circumstances and jurisdiction, the overall objective is to establish a clear framework for shared parenting that prioritizes the child’s well-being.

Example Parenting Plan

An example of a Shared Parenting Plan is in a case called Re: Z (Shared Parenting Plan: Publicity) that was heard in the High Court in 2005. The Judge, the Honourable Mr. Justice Hedley, said that he was handing down the judgement in this case in open Court so that publicity could be given to the approach that the parents had taken in the hope that others may use it as a basis for discussion and negotiation.

The Shared Parenting Plan comprised two schedules and was as follows:

First Schedule

The shared parenting plan for the child

The mother and father both:

  1. Respect the fact that they have and will continue to have joint and equal parental responsibility for the child.
  2. Acknowledge that the child has been looked after by them jointly under a “shared care” arrangement.
  3. Recognise the importance of these “shared care” arrangements continuing and commit themselves accordingly to such arrangements throughout the child’s childhood.
  4. Support the principle that the child shall spend time approximately equally in both homes.
  5. Understand the need for agreeing times, dates and dates as early in advance as possible when the child is to spend time with them during school holidays including half-term holidays.
  6. Agree that during term time the father will collect the child on ……….. until the following ……. [when he shall take the child back to school]. The balance of the child’s time being spent with the child’s mother. The parents both agree to keep these arrangements under review.
  7. Agree that the school holidays, to include half-term holidays, will involve the child sharing the child’s time as near equally as possible between their respective homes with times, days and dates of collection and delivery being agreed as early in advance as possible.
  8. Agree to share the arrangements for the collection and delivery of the child between homes.
  9. Have decided that when the child is spending time with one parent, the other will encourage the child to telephone that parent at a reasonable frequency being some two to three days [or as otherwise agreed]
  10. Acknowledge that as matters stand the child should stay at his/her present school. If either parent wishes to consider a change of school then he/she will, for the child’s benefit, enter into a constructive discussion of the matter with the other parent with a view to forming a consensual position.
  11. Agree that unless specifically required for the purposes of travel abroad the mother/father will retain the child’s passport, the same to be delivered to the other following each and every holiday that he/she may take abroad with the child.
  12. Acknowledge the need to share as equally as possible any incidental costs/extras arising as a result of the child’s school attendance and shall do so in the spirit of open and efficient exchange of information as to such costs/extras.
  13. Recognise the need for flexibility in the above arrangements for shared care such that any agreed variation in the time spent with one parent is properly compensated.
  14. Appreciate the importance of the child’s Guardian [CAFCASS] making a farewell visit to the child to explain this parenting plan and the agreement reached, the Court endorsing the importance of this from the child’s point of view.

Second Schedule

  • The knowledge that the child’s parents’ reason for divorce is not the child’s responsibility and that the child will be parented equally.
  • Treatment as an important person with unique feelings, ideas and desires and not the source of arguments between parties.
  • A continuing relationship with both parents and freedom to receive love from and express love for both parents.
  • The expression of love and affection for each parent without having to stifle that love because of fear of disapproval by the other parent.
  • Continuing care and guidance from both the child’s parents.
  • Being given honest age-appropriate answers about changing family relationships.
  • The knowledge and appreciation of what is good in each parent without denigrating the other.
  • A relaxed and secure relationship with both parents without being placed in a position to manipulate one against the other.
  • Being able to experience regular and equal shared parenting and know the reason for any future cancellations or curtailment to the child’s normal pattern of living with both parents.

Parenting Plan Template

A Parenting Plan template can be found on the CAFCASS website here:

Lisa Pepper is a Partner at Osbornes Solicitors LLP and is recommended in Chambers and Partners and the Legal 500. Lisa is ranked as a Distinguished Individual in Spears Family Law.  She is an Accredited Mediator. 

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