Picture it: It is 3:30 PM on a Friday before a holiday weekend. A panicked client calls me to tell me that their ex-spouse is going to pick up the children from school and intends to keep them Friday and Saturday even though your client had plans with the children on Friday and Saturday. You know that your client has had a Parenting Plan in place for three years now, and that it was drawn up between the parents when they had freshly separated but were “amicable” and still trying to work out their new family arrangement. Unfortunately, now there is tension between the parents, which is why this person is your client now – to renegotiate the terms of the Parenting Plan. You pull the file to take a look at the old (and currently still in place) Parenting Plan to see whose weekend it is with the children. Oh. Well, Mr. Client, you have a blanket statement here that says that you and your ex-spouse will share all holidays with the children equally. That’s quite unclear, isn’t it?
A Parenting Plan is a parent’s agreement and guide to, among other things, decision-making for the children and splitting their time with the children. A detailed Parenting Plan should eliminate potential conflicts between parents and allow them to focus on maintaining a reasonably amicable relationship with one another. This is also good for your children to see their parents working well together and they will have the stability and certainty in knowing when they will see their parents, which holidays will be spent with which parent, who will take them to their extracurricular activities, etc.
The Parenting Plan can be as detailed or as general as you like. However, if you are my client, I’ll be advising you to make your Parenting Plan as detailed as possible. Unfortunately, the scenario above, and so many other confusing situations, occurs far too often when the Parenting Plan is unclear.
These are only some of the problems that I regularly see in poorly drafted or considered Parenting Plans:
- An unspecific holiday and long weekend schedule – Often, I see Parenting Plans that fail to consider certain long weekends, PA/PD days or major holidays, or holiday schedules that are prepared so that it appears that one parent just happens to have the children on a certain holiday or long weekend (unless that was intentional). Knowing that you will see the children on a specific weekend in specific years allows you to plan a fun activity in advance, rather than spending the weekend angrily texting your ex and wondering when they will be returning the children to you. Be specific. You can include details regarding your regular family reunions, protocol for weddings and special events that you (and the children) may be invited to, and even made-up holidays that are special to your family.
- Where the parents and children will live – If your Parenting Plan is silent on or too broad with respect to where the parents will live with the children after separation and in the future, you could face problems if one parent wants to move with the children. For example, if your goal is to maximize the contact between the children and both parents, it does not help to have a clause in a Parenting Plan stating that the parents intend to live near one another and endeavor to remain in the “Greater Toronto Area”. The area covered by the Greater Toronto Area is MASSIVE. The plan to spend as much time with your children as possible becomes nearly impossible if one parent decides to live in Mississauga and the other parent decides to live in Newmarket.
- Extracurricular activities – Sometimes, parents have different ideas on the extracurricular activities their children should be involved in. Some parents want their children to be exposed to everything, while others want their children to pick one activity and stick to it. It is a problem when the Parenting Plan is silent on this issue, especially if both parents are going to contribute financially to this activity or the activity will be taking place during the other parent’s time with the children. This occurs most often when the Parenting Plan is negotiated when the children are very young and may not have any extracurricular activities at that time, but years later, the parents find themselves arguing about whether to put Junior into football or tennis or an expensive hockey league and who will pay for and bring the child to these activities.
If you find yourself constantly arguing with your children’s other parent about the terms of your Parenting Plan, Agreement or Court Order, perhaps it is time to revisit these terms to see if they are still working for your family. Families’ and children’s needs change constantly, so it may be time for an update so you can get back to doing what you do best, like planning a camping weekend with your kids and knowing that you won’t be interrupted. I welcome discussing these issues, so you can send me an email or give me a call.
“The information in this article is not intended as legal advice, and should not be considered as such. Family law varies from province to province and the outcome of your situation may also vary depending on the facts of your case. It is recommended that you seek the advice of a lawyer with respect to your family law matter. This article is for educational purposes only.”