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What is a parenting plan? And why do I need one?

Most parents who go through separation can make decisions together regarding their child’s upbringing but when this is not possible it can be a daunting experience for a parent, not knowing whether they are entitled to make decisions for their child or whether those decisions must be made jointly with the other parent. By drawing up a parenting plan, both parents understand and are aware of what’s been decided and what decisions they can make themselves.

What do both parents have to agree on?

If both parents have parental responsibility of their child, when it comes to making important decisions in relation to their child’s upbringing, they should both have an equal say. If the parents are separated, they are still entitled to be consulted about major issues which arise and would impact upon their child’s wellbeing.
Those important decisions include: –

  1. Their child’s education – choosing the right school or making decisions in relation which directly affect your child’s education.
  2. Planned medical treatment – although one parent who has parental responsibility for their child can give consent for medical treatment, it is important that if the other parent is involved in their child’s life that they should be consulted about any important decisions of this nature. You should discuss with the other parent and decide on medical treatments, vaccinations, and about a child’s health generally.
  3. Religion – if both parents follow different religions, there is nothing wrong with the child having the opportunity of learning and experiencing both parents’ religious beliefs.
  4. Extra-curricular activities – this would be considered a major decision because these activities could be closely linked with education and will benefit a child in developing essential skills as they grow up.
  5. Holidays abroad – parents should discuss and agree arrangements for taking their child on holiday abroad. If this decision is made unilaterally by one parent without the other parent’s knowledge or consent, it could amount to a criminal offence of Child Abduction.

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a written agreement agreed between separated parents, and clearly shows what arrangements you have agreed upon in accordance with what is in the child’s best interests. It demonstrates the need for both parents to be fully involved in all the key aspects of decision-making, whatever child arrangements are in place concerning where they live or how much time they spend with the other parent parenting plan can be agreed in advance, it could cut down the possibility of confusion and future conflict.
An agreed parenting plan can avoid the need for either parent to involve the family Court in relation to child arrangements, such as an application to Court for a live with order (formerly called ‘custody’) or an application for a Court order defining the time the other parent will spend with the child (formerly called ‘access’)

What choices do NOT have to be decided together?

Routine day to day decisions which do not warrant having to agree those with the other parent, can be made by whoever has care of the child at that time. These will include but not limited to fixing routine dental appointments, deciding whether their child needs a haircut, what they wear or what they eat, what time they will go to bed, the amount of time that their child can spend on their screens, the content of any digital activity they can engage in.
Provided a parent has reached a sensible decision in relation to these matters, it would be very hard for the other parent to challenge that decision.

We can’t agree on what’s best for our child. What should we do?

If parents are finding it hard to make joint decisions concerning their child, then prior to involving the Court, attending family mediation would be the best option to explore the possibility of resolving any dispute with the other parent in a constructive manner. However, if an agreement still cannot be reached on aspects of a child’s upbringing, then either parent can make an application to Court for a Court to decide
A specific issue order can be applied for when the Court will decide on any aspect of a child’s upbringing, or an application can be made for a prohibited steps order, which is an order the Court can grant to stop the other parent from making unilateral decisions about their child’s upbringing. Other Court orders which can be applied for are a live with order (formerly called a custody order) or an order defining the time that a parent spends with a child (formerly called ‘access’).
When the Court become involved, decisions are then taken out of the parents’ hands as it will be the Judge will decide on what is in your child’s best interests. Parents who are considering making a Court application therefore are encouraged to seek legal advice first.

How we can help

At Amphlett Lissimore, our family law team can help you to work with your ex-partner to agree on what’s best for your child. We offer a fixed fee first meeting with a family lawyer where we will help you to understand where you stand legally and all the possible next steps forward. The family law team also offer Family Mediation, or if talks break down, we can support and guide you through the Court process. As members of Resolution, our family law specialists are committed to resolving family issues in a constructive manner, considering the needs of the whole family, in particular the interests of the children.
If you would like to discuss parental responsibility or making child arrangements for your family, please contact the team today.

About the Author

Carole Hack is a family lawyer based in Crystal Palace. She has extensive experience with private children law matters including child arrangements, parental responsibility, and appointing a guardian. If you would like to book a fixed fee meeting with Carole, please call us on 020 8771 5254 or email Carole through her profile page.

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