What is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is an agreement you and the other person (or people) with parental responsibility put together when you are living separately. You don’t have to have a parenting plan in place but many separated parents find it helpful to have some agreement to fall back on should issues arise and to align their hopes for their children.
In this blog, we take a look at what to include in a parenting plan, what are the most common parenting arrangements and look at if a parenting plan is legally binding in the UK.
What to include in a parenting plan
1. General principles
It is helpful to start with some general principles about how you want to raise your children whilst living separately.
This will cover off matters, such as you both see each parent as having a role in the upbringing of the
children, what the children’s strengths are and what your hopes are for your future parenting arrangements as well as the physical and emotional wellbeing of the children.
2. Where will the children stay and when. What will happen if you need to make a change to the schedule.
Many parents draft a four-week rota:
You can then fill in where the children will sleep for each night of the week. It may be that week one and two are replicated in the following two weeks or that you agree something different. Many people have separate arrangements for school holidays.
You can vary the schedule as you wish. It may also include times when the children spend time with one parent, but sleep at the others, or it can include time spent on the phone or face time.
An example of a parenting schedule is below. Please note that every family is different and this is included here to show you how it may look – it is not a suggested standard schedule:
|Wk 1||Mum||Dad||Mum||Mum||Dad||Dad||Dad||Mum collects from school Friday|
|Wk 2||Mum||Dad||Mum||Mum||Mum||Mum||Mum||Dad collects from school Thursday|
|Wk 3||Mum||Dad||Mum||Dad||Dad||Dad||Dad||Mum Facetimes kids before bed Saturday|
|Wk 4||Mum||Dad||Mum||Mum||Mum||Mum||Dad||Dad collects from football on Sunday|
It is rare that any two schedules are exactly the same. And remember that the schedule will change over time as the children grow older and their activities, school and lives change. It is helpful to put something in place and see how it goes, with an understanding that it may need to change over time.
3. What will happen during school holidays and at half term?
Many parents agree a separate schedule for the school holidays. This is sometimes 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. You should discuss what will happen during:
- 3 x Half Terms
- Easter and Christmas Holidays
- Summer Holidays
Unless your children are privately educated, you will normally have 13 weeks of school holidays to discuss and make arrangements for.
It is helpful to discuss how you will communicate about the children moving forwards. You may want to set up monthly, quarterly or even an annual chat about the children, where you meet for coffee or schedule in a phone call between you and only talk about the children and their needs.
If communication is difficult, it can be really helpful to have a communication book, which can cover off what homework they need to do, what medicines they may be taking, or any other issues surrounding the children. Keep it civil in the book as the children may well read what is written in it.
5. Special Days in the year, Christmas and other Religious Days, Father’s Day & Mother’s Day, Birthdays etc.
Having decided the arrangements for the school term and holidays, you will need to consider if there are any changes for special days in the year. Many parents prioritise Mothers and Father’s Day in the schedule for the relevant parent. But you may also wish to accommodate your own birthdays, or birthdays of step-brothers and sisters.
Christmas and New Year can often be a time of contention on what parenting arrangements to agree. Try to focus on what the children would like and what can work best for the wider family.
6. Costs & Expenses
This would cover any statutory child maintenance payments and also how you will handle one off 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, you should start with the child maintenance calculator found here:
It is likely you both have parental responsibility. You therefore both should have an input into which schools the children attend. But your plan should also cover what will happen on parental feedback appointments, school events and other important school matters. The school will usually be happy to add both parents emails for their communications with parents.
8. 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 as soon as is practicable. But you should also communicate on matters such as whether a child has been given Calpol before they hand over.
9. Grandparents and wider family
Grandparents have their own rights when it comes to seeing their grandchildren, but they can be considered in your plan, alongside other family members to make sure the children can maintain contact with their wider family.
10. New partners
This can always be a contentious area to discuss. But with so many good arrangements going wrong when a new partner is introduced, it is worth having a discussion about now, even if it is not likely to be an issue for a little while.
The keys matters to discuss is how you will communicate together as parents to make sure the introduction of any new partner causes the least emotional distress to the child(ren). It should not be something that is suddenly introduced to the children, but done well can make a positive impact on their wellbeing.
11. Holidays Abroad & Passports
If you are planning on taking the children abroad, you will need to have permission from anyone with parental responsibility. This is irrespective for how long you are actually going abroad for. In some cases you may have a Child Arrangements Order, which will stipulate that the child is primarily resident with you. In such specific circumstances you do not need permission to take a child abroad, as long as it is for 28 days or less.
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.
Read our blog here about whether you can take your children abroad during term-time.
For holidays in England and Wales you do not need permission from anyone else with parental responsibility, but be careful if you are considering taking the child to Scotland, Northern Ireland or The Channel Islands, as these are under a different legal jurisdiction to England & Wales.
If in doubt you should take legal advice – but it is always better to work these things through in your parenting plan before they even become an issue.
12. Religion / Dispute Resolution / Other Specific Arrangements
You may have specific religious arrangements that you would like the children to follow at both residences, or agree on a joined up method of discipling. At the end of the day it is very difficult to try to control how the other party will raise the children once you are separated.
You may disagree on many parenting methods – but if there is something you specifically both agree on, then it should go in your plan. Some parents agree that they will not allow more than 3 hours on computers or that they must be in bed by 9pm on a school night etc. It can be helpful to agree in advance how you will resolve any future disputes – such as you agree to use family mediation.
It can be helpful to agree not to say anything derogatory about the other parent in front of the child – it is, after all, someone the children love that you are being disparaging about after all.
Your parenting plan questions answered:
Is a parenting plan legally binding in the UK?
No, a parenting plan is not legally binding, but if you both agree it could be shown in court to explain what the arrangements have been to date. To make a legally binding order you will need to apply for a child arrangements order. You can do this by consent but you would both still need to attend your local court.
What if we can’t agree on the parenting arrangements?
If you are unable to agree on the parenting plan, then you should try family mediation as the next step. Even if this breaks down, it then allows you the option of going to court to get a child arrangements order in place. And the court will have expected you to behave reasonably and responsibly throughout proceedings – including prior to attending court.
What is a co-parenting agreement?
A co-parenting agreement is the same as a parenting plan and lays out how will raise the child(ren)whilst living separately. In some cases you may agree to a 50/50 parenting schedule where the children have equal time with each parent.
Where can I find out more about parenting plans in the UK?
This link takes you to the Cafcass site where you can find details of their parenting plan. These are approved by the family courts. If you need help with agreeing the details of your parenting plan, then Mediate UK can help you reach an agreement and can also help your agreement become legally binding through a child arrangements order by consent – all for a fixed fee.
What if we cannot reach an agreement?
By attending your MIAM we can write to the other parent inviting them to family mediation where we can work with you both to agree your parenting plan. Alternatively, attending a MIAM opens up the route to apply to court for a Child Arrangements Order on a Form C100.
See our Ultimate Guide to a C100 Form for more information.
How much does a parenting plan cost?
A parenting plan will not cost anything if you can both agree to the contents. You can download a template for free and complete it between yourselves. If you need help agreeing the contents, then mediation costs £115 per person per hour and your agreed parenting plan drafted by your mediator is £72 per person. There is more on the full costs of mediation here.
Mediate UK are the top-rated family mediation service in the UK. 90% of our clients who go on to joint mediation are able to reach an agreement through our progressive mediation system.
Why not find your future and give us a call on 0330 999 0959 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more?