If a separating couple has children one of the things discussed in mediation is a “Parenting Plan.” Parenting Plans outline who will make decisions for the children and what time will be spent with them. In the past this has been called “custody and access.” Recent changes to the Divorce Act mean that custody is now called “decision making” and access is now called “parenting time.”
When the separation is amicable parents often want to gloss over areas of the parenting plan, insisting that they’ll just remain flexible and “figure it out” as they go. Being flexible is important and will be one of the keys to successfully co-parenting. But, even in these cases I urge parents to spend some time talking about the details of how they want to parent their children. It’s important to have a plan that includes some detail so that if there is any conflict in the future they’ll have something that they can fall back on. They can refer to a document that outlines what they’ve already agreed upon. I help bring up questions and scenarios that parents may not have considered. We talk about how they would handle them and what they think is best for their children. Talking about parenting issues ahead of time in mediation can help avoid future conflict.
If desired I also capture in writing the desire to remain flexible, put children first, and be willing to change certain aspects of the plan when requested and agreed upon. We use the law, but we also capture the spirit and intention with which parents made their decisions. We talk about ways to communicate effectively, and what to do when conflict arises. We make plans for extenuating circumstances like holidays, vacations, health issues, or changing work schedules.
Typical parenting plans usually stop there. But in mediation there are many other things we talk about to help ensure peaceful parenting. . It’s important to me that when you leave mediation you have a roadmap to how you will get past conflict and parent with peace well into the future. More coming in Part 2!