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Creating a successful parenting plan

18 Oct
21

Creating the right parenting plan is essential for your success as a blended family, here are my tips and a template for you to use.

Mother and daughter walking in a woodland, with sun-ray shinning down

Divorcing or separating with children comes with it’s own unique set of challenges. Not only do you have your own emotional journey to face, you also need to manage and support the emotional needs of your children which will vary from child to child.  It is a common misconception that courts decide what happens to children in a divorce. This is not true, courts believe that the best people to make decisions about their children are the parents and will only intervene if an agreement can’t be reached or in circumstances of domestic violence.


To get yourself off to the best start with your ex, you need to get a parenting plan in place straight away. Getting this right is paramount to your children’s adjustment and acceptance of their new circumstances. All children regardless of age (including teens) need stability and consistency. Having a plan will enable you to answer their questions and provide reassurances. However, this must be done together to show your children that you are still a family and they can rely on both of you.


What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is an agreement between two or more separated parents or legal guardians on the arrangement of the children.



What a plan should include:

1. Principles

It is helpful to start with some principles about how you want to raise your children whilst living separately, how you see your role as a parent, the children's strengths and your hopes for the future. It is an opportunity to get on the same page and focus on a positive future for you all.

You may also want to agree on a joined up method of disciplining your children. At the end of the day you can not control how the other person parents, and you may not always agree with one another, but if you can set out some principles you do both agree on that will help your child in the long run i.e. screen time, bed time, rewards.

2. A schedule

This is literally where and when your children will be. It can be a weekly, fortnightly or monthly schedule of who is picking up and being dropped off, where they are sleeping etc. It is a schedule that allows the whole family to know what is happening, establishes a routine and should be adhered to, It becomes the foundation for trust for all concerned.

Please note, schedules can change in school holidays etc. Many parents agree to a different schedule for this period. This is to allow one parent to make up for time during the school term, when it may be harder to schedule in time with the children or to help with child care. Similarly, It is helpful to agree in the plan what arrangements you are going to put in place if you wish to take the children abroad and agree to share details of flights, hotels where you are staying etc.

You should also agree how passports will be handed across, who will usually hold them and who will cover the cost of maintaining them. You may also wish to discuss if there is to be any contact between the children and the other parent whilst they are away.


3. Special days

Having decided your schedule, you will also need to consider if there are any changes for special days in the year such as birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day etc.  Many parents schedule Mothers and Father’s Day for the relevant parent, but you may also wish to accommodate your own birthdays, or birthdays of step-siblings.

Christmas and New Year can often be a time of contention so agreeing this upfront is helpful for everyone to know where they stand. Try to focus on what the children would like.

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4. Communication

Communication is key to any relationship and especially the one with your ex as it is often the first thing to suffer in a divorce and causes unlimited issues. It is helpful to discuss how you will communicate about the children moving forwards. You may want to set up monthly or quarterly chats where you meet for coffee or schedule a phone call to talk about the children and their needs.

If communication is difficult, it can be really helpful to have a communication book or use an app such as my family wizard. However this should only ever be a temporary measure whilst you both get the help you need to communicate effectively.

5. Costs and expenses

This section of a plan covers statutory child maintenance payments and/as well as ad hoc expenses such as school trips and uniform. It may also cover payments for mobile phones, subscriptions and after school activities. For help with what you should pay in child maintenance visit gov.uk.

6. Schools

As well as deciding where your children should go to school your plan should also cover what will happen on parents’ evenings, school events and other important school matters. Schools are happy to add both parents' emails for their communications with parents.

7. Health & Medicines

As you are both likely to have parental responsibility you will both need to have a say in any emergency situation and be notified if your child goes into hospital. But you should also communicate on smaller matters such as whether a child has been given Calpol before the handover.

8. New Partners

This is often a contentious issue. But the fact is 3 out of 4 people will go on to remarry, so the chances are it will affect you. In my experience so many good arrangements go wrong when a new partner is introduced. It is therefore crucial to have  a discussion before an introduction occurs.

The key thing to discuss and agree on is how you will communicate together as parents to make sure the introduction of any new partner causes the least emotional distress. It should not be something that is suddenly introduced. As well as the timing, children need time to adjust and you need to make sure that any new partner is going to stay the distance before introducing them.


Don’t forget a plan will need to bend and flex

Inevitably your parenting plan will change with your children as they grow and mature. This plan  needs to work for you all. That is why having a good plan in place and open communication with your ex will really stand you in good stead for creating the best environment possible for your children.

Next Steps

If you need help creating your parenting plan there is a great example at the Freebies | The Parent Practice or alternatively you can download a complete Share the Care Co Parenting Plan (Digital Download) | The Parent Practice

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