Understanding the CAFCASS Parenting Plan
A Parenting Plan is a written document that plans how parents intend to parent their children following separation or divorce. You can use a Parenting Plan to set out how you intend for child arrangements to work, without the need to go through the Courts. The purpose of the Parenting Plan is to provide structure and an amicable agreement that works for everyone, whilst ensuring that your children’s best interests are the top priority.
How can a Parenting Plan help you?
Using a Parenting Plan can be very useful following separation for a variety of reasons:
- You can cover a variety of points in a Parenting Plan including, how long your child spends time with each parent and for how long, holidays and passports, contact with other parties, health care and education.
- You can use the Parenting Plan as a point of reference, so if you experience disagreements during your coparenting relationship, you can refer back to the Parenting Plan to see what was agreed. The plan can also cover how to manage potential future disagreements, such as a commitment to return to mediation, or meeting in a neutral location to discuss matters, such as a coffee shop.
- Both parents can know what is expected of them, which will hopefully avoid disagreements and ensure the structure needed for a good coparenting relationship.
It is not uncommon that following a separation there can be communication issues. This often leads to disagreements around things that are important to you, such as child arrangements. Many people resort to the Courts where those disagreements cannot be resolved independently. The Court process can be incredibly stressful and difficult and can lead to decisions that perhaps you did not necessarily want – the decision making is in the hands of the Judge.
A Parenting Plan can be very useful to settle disagreements without going to Court. It breaks down your disagreements into relatively bitesize chunks, rather than looking at the arrangements as a whole. You can also use mediation where an impartial mediator will help calm down the situation and facilitate a constructive conversation. By agreeing a Parenting Plan between yourselves either with or without mediation, means that the decision-making stays in your hands and you can build a Parenting Plan that works for you and your family.
Some people find that by using a Parenting Plan you can explore things that you may not have considered. It also helps you to focus on your child(ren) and their best interests and to explore various proposals. It is not uncommon that separating parents will become focused on one particular issue and lose sight of the bigger picture – drafting a Parenting Plan means that you will need to look at the arrangements as a whole and work through it to cover all bases.
When should I start making a Parenting Plan?
There is no specific time when you should start drafting a Parenting Plan, however, you should consider it before making a Court application, if that is what you wish to do. Additionally, it is important that you both feel able to engage in the process: Do you feel able to communicate and listen to each other? It can be useful to break down the Parenting Plan and see if you already have some agreements and start there. It is better to have some agreements and short-term plans in place than to have none at all.
It is a good idea to at least start thinking about a Parenting Plan if there are disagreements after separation. This is because at mediation you may be making a parenting plan or at Court, a Judge will expect to hear your proposals for a Parenting Plan, or possibly see a start of a Parenting Plan. CAFCASS offer a useful document that you can use to start planning your Parenting Plan, which can be accessed here.
Before starting your Parenting Plan, it might be useful to attend a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP). There are lots of SPIP providers, you can find your nearest here. SPIP is a 4-hour course which focus on co-coparenting, children and communication. It is not a course about your parenting skills. The information and learning at SPIP will likely help you in deciding how to draft a Parenting Plan.
How should a Parenting Plan look?
Whilst there are templates available for Parenting Plans, it is important to know that no two Parenting Plans are the same (think about it – every family is different and your Parenting Plan must be tailored to your family and their needs, particularly the children!). One of the most important principles of the Parenting Plan is ensuring that it is as simple as possible and is very practical. It is important that both parents and children know exactly what is happening and when, with a good structure and routine. This offers certainty and should hopefully avoid conflict in the future. When you are drafting a Parenting Plan, it is very important that you speak with your children and get an idea of what they want too. A good Parenting Plan is one that works for everyone and meets their needs and wants insofar as is possible.
What should we include in our Parenting Plan?
You can include whatever you feel is necessary in the Parenting Plan relating to childcare and your coparenting relationship. The most common things that are include are living/childcare arrangements and communications. You may like to ask things like:
- How long will the children spend time with each parent? Will they have a main place to live?
- When the children aren’t spending time with either parent, will there be provision for “indirect contact” (telephone calls, Zoom, FaceTime, text messages) – how will we manage this? Will it be at a certain day or time?
- What do we plan to do about important days such as Christmas, religious events, or birthdays? What about our birthdays too? Mother’s/Father’s Day?
- Who will do the school runs?
- How will we manage the children’s hobbies and activities?
- What about taking the children on holiday?
In terms of communication, there are lots of things to explore which you may not have heard of. You may wish to ask questions like:
- How will we communicate? How do we communicate best? (Phone call, email, text message)
- What do we and don’t we need to communicate about?
- Would we like to set specific times when we can communicate with each other? What about in an emergency?
- What will we do if we get new partners?
- Do we have a plan as to how we will communicate with each other when in front of the children?
- How will we communicate together when important decisions are being made about our children’s lives?
Can I get support making a Parenting Plan?
One of the best ways to get support is through mediation. Your mediator will facilitate the conversations between the two of you and structure those conversations to work through your disagreements and discuss proposals. Mediators are qualified individuals who are accredited by the Family Mediation Council. Your mediator can draft your Parenting Plan based on the outcomes at mediation. Considering the questions to be asked above, these are things that you can explore in mediation with the support of an impartial person. Being in the mediation environment may improve your communications, as you may feel it is not easy to have these conversations, especially if you are already experiencing some tension
You do not have to use a mediator to write a Parenting Plan and you can do it yourself, however, it can be a weight off your shoulders to have confidence that someone impartial is involved in the process and who is knowledgeable of the nature of the document.
If you wish to produce your own document, CAFCASS has a lot of accessible guidance free of charge:
How long does a Parenting Plan last?
Your Parenting Plan will last as long as you need it. However, it is important to recognise that your Parenting Plan needs to be flexible, as your children grow and your family circumstances change. Inevitably things will change as time passes and your Parenting Plan will need to change too. You can both review your Parenting Plan at any time, but it is not uncommon for parents to include a “review date” where they can check over the plan and make sure it is still working. Some parents choose to come back to mediation when they reach this stage so that their mediator can support them to conduct the review.
The CAFCASS Parenting Plan is a very useful document that you can use to help reach agreements and plan for the future. Separation is a very difficult and turbulent time, especially when children are involved. Using a Parenting Plan can help keep some structure and certainty and remind you of the progress you are making. Children can be greatly affected by separation, and even if you are disagreeing on many things, you both will surely agree that you do not want this to be the case. Having a Parenting Plan in place ensures the structure and routine for your children that is necessary for a happy family life.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Are Parenting Plans legally binding?
Parenting Plans are not legally binding agreements by themselves. However, you can convert them into something called a Consent Order which is.
How much does a Parenting Plan cost?
Parenting Plans are of course free if you do them yourselves. Different firms will charge different fees, at DMS we charge £120 per person for the drafting of a Parenting Plan as part of the mediation process.
Is there anything we cant include in a Parenting Plan?
You cannot include any reference to your financial arrangements in a Parenting Plan. Financial arrangements are dealt with separately and you should only discuss child arrangements in the Parenting Plan. You can refer to Child Maintenance/Child Support.
When should we review the contents of our Parenting Plan?
There is no exact timeframe to do this, but you should review it in light of your family circumstances. Some parents choose to set a fixed review date each year, for example, to make sure the arrangements are still working.
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