Parenting Agreements

During the course of a divorce, it is possible for tensions to run high for both parties. When there are children involved, the idea of co-parenting may seem like an impossibility. However, if parents can take the time to develop a parenting agreement (sometimes referred to as a “parenting plan”) for the children, it may ease some of the stress surrounding the overall situation. Some parents may be able to sit down and discuss the aspects of the parenting agreement on their own. However, for couples who have encountered more conflict or simply want to make sure they have covered all of the pertinent issues, the collaborative law and mediation processes can provide an excellent way for parents to create the best possible parenting agreement for their children. In these processes it is the parents that are making the decisions about their family rather than a third party.

Download a free copy of Deborah's article entitled: 50/50 Parenting Plans During Separation and Divorce: Practical Considerations for Mediating Parenting Plans

Download a free copy of Jennifer McIntosh, Ph.D's article entitled: Because It’s for the Kids - Building a Secure Parenting Base After Separation

What is a parenting agreement?

A parenting agreement is a legally binding plan reached by both parents that sets up terms and conditions about how both parents intend to raise their child(ren). A parenting agreement involves more than just the custody of the children. A parenting agreement can include various aspects of the children’s upbringing, including holidays and school breaks, travel arrangements, decision-making (both day-to-day decisions and major decisions), and the relocation of one parent. The agreement can also include who has access to information (school, medical, etc.) and communication with the children. There can be added provisions by the parents including communication with significant others or other family members, dispute resolution in the event of future disagreements, and wills. While some provisions are required for the agreement, many can be added at the parents’ discretion. If parents are worried that a parenting agreement will lock them in to terms they may not agree on in the future, the agreement may also include provisions for future changes that they may want to make and how those changes can be implemented.

Although tensions may be high and initial discussions may seem combative, parents who are able to set aside conflict and create a thorough parenting agreement will benefit in the long run. Making shared decisions upfront will seem impossible for some, but it is important to remember that the benefits of overcoming any built-up hostilities will heavily outweigh the difficulties. A good parenting agreement will allow children to have consistency with their parental relationships and feel secure through the process. A looming divorce can be difficult on children, but with a solid agreement in place, children will be able to adjust more quickly to the new situation.

What does a parenting agreement look like?

Parents may use a standard form to create a parenting agreement or may draft their own. It is wise to work with an attorney to ensure that the agreement is durable and that both parties have a solid basis of understanding of available options and applicable law.

What does a parenting agreement contain?

Each parenting agreement is tailored to the needs of the parents and child(ren) and depends on a variety of factors, such as the age of the child(ren), the geographical location of where each parent lives, the resources available to each parent, and the needs of the child(ren).

A very important aspect of creating a parenting agreement is maintaining 100% focus on the children. Any personal feelings parents have towards each other need to be put to the side or addressed somewhere other than the parenting agreement. The focus is to address the children’s best interest. Collaborative law and mediation can be especially beneficial in creating a parenting agreement because these processes seek an optimal result for the whole, rather than one parent “winning” and the other “losing.” A collaborative attorney or mediator can assist the parents in setting aside conflict to move forward with the parenting agreement.

Utilizing collaborative law or mediation can help ensure that the discussions for the parenting agreement remain children-focused, and an experienced collaborative attorney or mediator can help guide the conversation into the appropriate areas. It can also help each parent’s voice be heard so that any concerns for the children will be adequately addressed. This type of environment is very beneficial for parents because it can put them more at ease to make requests and actively listen to what the other has to say. Because the collaborative law and mediation processes are non-adversarial, it allows parents to have the opportunity to create a partnership for the parenting agreement, rather than an environment that pits one against the other.

Because divorce can be a difficult process for children, having a parenting agreement in place can provide structure and consistency. Although communication between parents may be difficult, overcoming that hurdle and working together will benefit the children in the long run.

Will a court follow a parenting agreement?

Courts usually follow a parenting agreement as long as the agreement is in the best interests of the children.

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