For separating couples who have children, making a parenting plan is one of the most important aspects of preparing for life after divorce. While you may be separating as a couple, you will always be co-parents of your children, and making effective arrangements early on can help you all transition more easily.
Co-parenting can be challenging after divorce, and the needs of your family will be unique to your circumstances. You may be able to make arrangements between yourselves, or you may need help from your family lawyer, mediator, or other support organisations (see the end of the article for a list of useful contacts) to come to an agreement. Whatever your methods of communication, use the following advice to create a practical, effective parenting plan that keeps your children’s well-being at the forefront of your arrangements:
- Remember, it’s not a competition. Working out parenting arrangements is not a case of who sees the children more or dividing up your time 50/50 – it’s about making sure your children get quality time with both of you in a way that works for your situation. Put your children first. They have a right to have both parents in their lives so long as they are safe and are able to enjoy a positive relationship with each of you. The division of parenting time may need to be unequal for logistical purposes, depending on work hours, childcare, finances, location, extra-curricular activities, and many other variables. When drawing up a parenting plan, start with the practical considerations and the wishes of your children and work outward from there.
- Keep your kids informed and involved where appropriate. There’s a fine balance between making sure your children know what’s going on so they can acclimatise to the new situation and putting too much responsibility and choice on their shoulders. Give your children a chance to voice their wishes and concerns about their new living arrangements and help them feel secure and safe with a reliable routine, but don’t make them feel that it’s totally up to them to make big decisions about their future.
- Prepare to be flexible. As much as it helps to have a clear routine for both you and your children, it’s unrealistic to expect things to run to plan all the time. Situations change, emergencies arise, and you may find your plans need tweaking or adjusting from time to time. It will take trial and error to find an arrangement that works, so be prepared to compromise, adjust and be flexible. Review your parenting plan regularly to take into account the changing needs of your children.
- Stick to an agenda. If you anticipate communication between you and your ex to be difficult, write down a shortlist of priorities you need to talk about and stick to it; focus on the practical logistics and try to avoid discussing emotional issues. For example: your children’s day-to-day needs, sleeping arrangements, financial needs and maintenance, travel arrangements, holidays, extra-curricular activities, childcare, and contingency plans.
- Don’t put your kids in the middle. No matter what you’ve been through, it’s unfair for your children to hear you badmouthing their other parent. Don’t place your children in the position where they feel they have to take sides. Co-parenting is not a case of constantly trying to one-up each other. The purpose of separation is to end the conflict and make a fresh start – don’t let the disputes continue afterwards.
- Find the best way to communicate. To successfully co-parent after separation, communication is vital. But that doesn’t mean you have to meet up in person or even talk on the phone if you find talking to your ex difficult. Find the most effective way for you both to make arrangements with the minimum of stress and animosity, whether that’s via email, text, or by synching online calendars. And make sure to record your arrangements in writing so you have a paper trail to follow should problems arise later.
- If you can’t agree, seek help from a third party. There’s no shame in asking for some extra support if you’re struggling to come to an agreement with your ex. There are plenty of organisations and options for separated parents. Your first port of call should be your family lawyer or mediator, who will be able to help you negotiate an agreement. For more advice and support, see the list of useful links below.
Useful links for separated parents:
- CAFCASS guide to making a parenting plan
- ‘Splitting Up? Put Kids First’ Parenting Plan
- Resolution’s Parenting Charter
- Gingerbread Single Parent Network (Helpline: 0808 802 0925)
- NSPCC (Helpline: 0808 800 5000)
- Relate (Helpline: 0300 100 1234)
- Child Maintenance Options (Helpline: 0800 988 0988)
- National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 2000 247)
- Voices in the Middle
The experienced family law department at Frances Lindsay & Co offer a range of separation services, including divorce, mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law. To speak to one of our solicitors get in touch at www.franceslindsay.co.uk or make an appointment at one of our Thames Valley offices.children's arrangements, children's issues, divorce, mediation, separation