When a couple with children are separating or divorcing, one term you might come across is a Parental Agreement, or Parenting Plan. But what is this all about? Do we have to do it? And why should we go through the bother of this when we have so much going?
This article will explain what is meant by a parental responsibility agreement in the UK, also known as a parental agreement or simply a ‘parenting plan’. It will also explain how it can really help you in your relationship with your children as they grow up, what a parental agreement needs to include and how each of you can share in the decisions and care arrangements that affect your children, even after you are no longer together as a couple.
What is a parental agreement?
A parental agreement covers the practical issues agreed by parents who do not live together about how they will each play their part in looking after their children. It is not set in stone, and indeed needs to be regularly reviewed and updated if necessary to take the changing needs of all involved particpants, especially the children themselves, into account.
There is no “standard parental agreement” form as such because it is an individual agreement you draw up together to suit your individual circumstances.
Who needs to write the parental agreement?
The parental agreement needs to be drawn up and signed by the people who have parental responsibility for the children. This is nearly always the chid(ren)’s parents. However, it is important to also think about members of the extended family (e.g., grandparents and other family members) and how they can be involved in looking after and keeping contact with the children.
What needs to be covered in the parental agreement?
There are no hard and fast rules about the content of a parental agreement, or how it is set up. The important thing is that it should be tailored to your particular circumstances and, most importantly, what is best for your children.
It needs to be sufficiently detailed so that it is clear to both of you, and it will not be misinterpreted by either of you – but also bear in mind that there will need to be some flexibility, so it should not be so detailed that it is restrictive when you try to follow the terms.
Ideally, a parental agreement should cover at least the following practical topic areas:
Day-to-day living and school arrangements:
- Where will the children live during term time?
- How will each parent have the opportunity to attend “parent’s evenings” at school, be there for the children at Nativity Plays, school sports days, etc?
- Do both parents commit to supporting their children with extra-curricular activities, school clubs, sporting activities, etc?
- How will the children keep in touch with parent they are not currently living with? This could include ground rules around telephone calls, video calls, face time, etc.
- What will be the arrangements during school holidays, half terms, bank holidays and other special occasions like Christmas, New Year, birthdays, etc?
- How will both parents ensure that homework commitments are maintained smoothly?
- Will there be any potential objections if parents intend to take their children abroad on holiday?
- How can you build in flexibility in the arrangements to cover such things as illness?
Practical decisions about health care and well-being
- Do your children have any particular health needs? For example, are both parents aware of allergies, medication that they need to take, any special educational needs?
- How will the parents jointly keep up to date with developments regarding their healthcare – e.g., doctor or hospital appointments, vaccinations, etc?
- Are there any spiritual of faith needs to take into account?
Communication between parents
- Even though the parents are no longer together, they will still need to keep a line of communication open to discuss matters relating to their children’s upbringing, review the parenting agreement and decide whether it is still working well for the children or if anything needs to change. Communication between former partners can often be difficult; how often will you need to have these discussions, and will you feel able to run them yourselves or do you think a mediator will help you keep on track?
- It is quite possible that either or both parents will have a new partner in their lives at some point in the future. It is a good idea to agree some basic ground rules in the parental agreement covering how new partners will be introduced to your children to make it as easy as possible for them to adapt. For example, agreeing that the children will not be asked or expected to call the new partner “Mum” or “Dad”.
Ongoing expenses relating to the children
- Although some level of maintenance payment to help with the children’s upbringing might be agreed as part of the financial arrangements on separation, there will always be extra incidental expenses – e.g., school trips, school uniforms, mobile phone contracts, costs for out-of-school activities, pocket money, etc. What will be a fair way to divide these sorts of costs between you?
There may be many other areas you need to consider for your parental agreement. You can find more details, suggestions and guidance from Cafcass.
As you can see, there is a lot to consider when putting together a parental agreement that will be helpful and useful for you as parents, and most importantly, for your children. It can be a daunting and emotionally challenging process to go through, especially when you are going through the stress of separation or divorce. Mediation can be a very effective way to have these sorts of difficult conversations. We have a lot of experience in helping couples design and agree a parental plan to suit their circumstances and can help you draw up a plan that says what you need it to say and is precisely tailored to what your children need.
Mediation is a particularly cost-effective way to establish clear ground rules in your parenting plan for how you will both play a valuable role in bringing your children up after you separate or divorce and help them adjust to the new living arrangements as smoothly and with as little pain as possible. Get in touch with one of our friendly and experienced team members 0113 468 9593 to find out how we can best help you here.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is a parental agreement or parenting plan?
A parental agreement sets out how you jointly intend to manage the practical issues of parenting after you separate. For example, it includes how often the children will spend time with each parent during term time and holidays and how each parent will share their parental responsibilities after they separate.
Do we have to have a parental agreement?
There are no rules that say you have to draw up a formal parenting agreement, but it is often difficult following a separation for both parents to feel they can properly share in their children’s upbringing. A parental agreement can be really helpful to separating couples to focus on the practicalities and also give reassurance to the children that their needs continue to be equally important to both their parents.
How detailed does the parental agreement need to be?
The parental agreement needs to go into enough detail so that everyone is clear about what is intended to happen and when, but also flexible enough to be able to adapt to changing needs.
I want to have a parental agreement in place, but my ex-partner is not cooperating. What can I do?
Mediation can often be an effective way to start these difficult discussions and to keep your discussions focused on what really matters – your children’s welfare – in a non-confrontational and respectful way. This is likely to be a much cheaper and less stressful way for all involved than having to go to court to get a parenting order.
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