Parenting plan tool

Note: This tool is not intended as legal advice.

Parenting plan tool instructions

Coming up with a parenting plan

A parenting plan is a written document that outlines how parents will raise their children after separation or divorce. This parenting plan tool allows you to choose statements to include as you develop a basic parenting plan. It will give you a starting point for developing a plan that is in your children's best interests.

You can use this parenting plan tool if you're making parenting arrangements under the Divorce Act. The federal Divorce Act generally applies when divorcing parents need to settle issues related to parenting arrangements. Provincial and territorial laws apply to parenting arrangements when unmarried parents separate or when married parents separate and do not pursue a divorce.

The tool may still be useful to you even if the Divorce Act doesn't apply to your situation because the types of decisions you need to make about how you will raise your children are similar.

Legal advice

It's a good idea to consult a family lawyer when you are developing a parenting plan. A family law lawyer can help you to understand your legal rights and responsibilities before you make the plan final.

You may also wish to find information about family law as well as government-based family justice services in your province or territory to help with your parenting plan.

Using this parenting plan tool

To create your own parenting plan using the tool, begin by filling in the fields with your information. Fields marked with an asterisk (*) are required. Read each section and select the options that apply to your family’s situation. If you select a statement and later change your mind, you can always select a different option. If you do not wish to include a statement, simply do not select it.

When you have finished choosing the clauses that apply to you, click submit. The information you filled out will be sent to you in an email soon after you click submit, using the email address you provided.

If you do not have time to complete each section of the tool, you can click submit at the bottom of the page to have just the information you filled out sent to you. You can return to the tool later to fill out the sections you missed and use the information in the email to help you remember which sections you already completed.

What the parenting plan tool covers

Each section of the tool looks at different issues for you to think about as you decide on your parenting arrangements. They include:

  • general statements or rules about your co-parenting relationship
  • decisions about your children
  • how your children will spend time with each parent
  • exchanging information and communicating about your children
  • handling appointments and other practical arrangements for your children
  • travel
  • moving away
  • resolving disputes
  • reviewing, monitoring and changing the parenting plan

It's also important to note that this tool does not cover child support. If you would like to determine the child support amount for your children, you can use the federal child support guidelines and worksheets.

Some of the options in this parenting plan tool may not be appropriate in your situation. For example, if there has been family violence and there are ongoing safety issues for you and your children, options that would require you and the other parent to interact often may not work in your case. Many of the options in this tool also require you and the other parent to cooperate well with one another.

Addressing all of the issues covered in the parenting plan tool

All families are different. This tool is meant to give examples of options you can include in a parenting plan. As you use the tool, you may find that you don't need some of these options in your situation or you may wish to add others.

The statements in this tool are only examples. Your parenting plan needs to be tailored to meet your child's specific needs. If you have more than one child and your children have different needs, you may wish to create separate parenting plans for each child. This will allow you to select different options that better reflect your family’s needs.

If it's likely that there will be conflict between you and the other parent about certain parenting issues, think about addressing those issues in your plan. This may help to reduce conflict later. On the other hand, only include the details that are really necessary. It’s important to remember that you and the other parent will both need to comply with the rules you include in your plan.

Creating a legally binding parenting plan

You and the other parent may want to write a parenting plan that is legally binding. This means that you can ask a court to enforce it. If you have your parenting plan included in your order under the Divorce Act, it will be legally binding. If you are not making parenting arrangements under the Divorce Act, you may decide to have your parenting plan included in an order under provincial or territorial law or to make it a legally binding agreement. You will find more information about making agreements and obtaining orders under the family justice laws that apply in your province or territory.

A family law lawyer can also tell you how the court system works and give you advice about having your parenting plan made into an agreement or reflected in a court order. For example, one factor to consider is that formal written agreements or court orders may be required by outside agencies or professionals, such as schools, medical professionals, and government departments. These organizations also need documents that are clear and easy to understand.

Names of parents and children

Enter the full names of all parents and children included in this plan.

Email address


General statements and rules about the parenting relationship

You may wish to include general statements at the beginning of your parenting plan. These set out the guidelines that you and the other parent both agree should apply.

Children's needs change over time, especially as they go through different developmental stages. It's a good idea to recognize that you may need to update the parenting plan as they get older. The last clause below addresses this issue.

Here are some statements you may want to include in your parenting plan.

Responsibilities to our children

Responsibilities to each other

Reviewing this parenting plan

Making decisions about the children

You and the other parent need to decide how you will make major decisions about the children. Examples of major decisions include

  • choice of school
  • decisions about medical treatments
  • regular attendance at religious services

You and the other parent may agree to make these decisions jointly, have them made solely by one parent, or divide different decisions between you.

In contrast, day-to-day and emergency decisions are usually made by the parent who is with the children at any given time.

The federal Divorce Act has certain rules about parenting arrangements for parents who divorce. Provinces and territories have generally similar rules for unmarried parents and for married parents who separate but do not apply for a divorce.

This section provides statements about parental decision making which follow the federal Divorce Act rules for divorcing parents. If you are not divorcing but are still using this tool, you can find information about parenting arrangements under the family justice laws that apply in your province or territory. For example, if you live in the province of Québec, parents share parental authority, which includes important decisions about the children such as health care, education and religion. The parents may decide between them how they will exercise that parental authority.

Important decisions about the children

Day-to-day decisions

Emergency decisions

Children’s time with each parent

The parenting schedule that you agree to will depend on your children's best interests. There are a number of examples below for school-aged children, but there may be other schedules that would work better in your situation. It's also important to think about practical issues in developing a schedule that is best for your child. For example, work schedules, transportation and how far you live from the other parent will likely affect the schedule.

You don't need to use any particular wording, like custody, access, parenting time, parenting time schedule or residential schedule. Choose whatever works best for you. The key is to be clear about what you mean.

Sometimes agreements or orders use language like "reasonable" or "generous" time with a child. This leaves it up to the parents to decide the parenting schedule on an ongoing basis. While this may work well in some cases, it can cause disputes and conflict in others. It's clearer for everybody if you set out a detailed schedule. But, if your circumstances change and the schedule doesn't work anymore, you will need to change your agreement or order. Consider which approach will work best for you.

The examples below include information about picking up and dropping off the children. Think about whether you need this amount of detail in your plan.

You should also remember that to meet your children's needs, you may need to be flexible with the schedule at times. For example, you may need to re-schedule a child's time with one parent if there is an out-of-town sports tournament during their time with a child, but the other parent is responsible for transportation to and from the activity.

Regular parenting schedule

Here are some options to create a parenting schedule for school-aged children. You will be able to select your preferred option after reading through all of the examples below.

1. Alternating weeks

The children will live alternating weeks with Parent A and Parent B. If the children are living with Parent A in a given week, Parent A will pick the children up on Monday after school, and drop them off at school the following Monday morning. Parent B will do the same.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

2. Split Week (2-2-5-5 rotation)

This schedule is a rotation, based on two consecutive days with each parent and then five consecutive days with each parent. The children will live with:

  1. Parent A from Monday after school until Wednesday morning before school
  2. Parent B from Wednesday after school until Friday before school
  3. Parent A from Friday after school until the following Wednesday morning before school
  4. Parent B from Wednesday after school until the following Monday morning before school.
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

 Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

3. Split two week (2-2-3-2-2-3 rotation)

This schedule is a rotation over a two-week period. In each week, the schedule is, based on two consecutive days with one parent, then two consecutive days with the other parent, and then three consecutive days with the first parent. The children will live with:

  1. Parent A from 6:00 p.m. on Sunday until Tuesday before school
  2. Parent B from Tuesday after school until Thursday before school
  3. Parent A from Thursday after school until 6:00 p.m. on the Sunday beginning week 2
  4. Parent B from 6:00 p.m. on the Sunday beginning week 2 until Tuesday before school
  5. Parent A from Tuesday of week 2 after school until Thursday before school
  6. Parent B from Thursday of week 2 after school until 6:00 p.m. on the following Sunday.
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent A

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent A

Parent A

Parent B

Parent B

Parent B

4. Primary residence with one parent

The children will live mainly with Parent A. The children will live with Parent B from after school on Tuesday until 8:00 p.m. and after school on Thursday until 8:00 p.m. The children will also live with Parent B every second weekend from after school on Friday until Monday morning. Parent B will be responsible for picking the children up from school on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and on those days Parent A will pick up the children from Parent B's home at 8:00 p.m. On the weekends when the children live with Parent B, Parent B will pick the children up at school on Friday and drop them off at school on Monday.

OR

The children will live primarily with Parent A. The children will live with Parent B from after school on Wednesday until 7:00 p.m., and every second weekend from afterschool on Friday until Monday morning. Parent B will pick the children up from school on Wednesday and drop them off at Parent A's residence at 7:00 p.m. On the weekends when the children live with Parent B, Parent B will pick the children up from school on Friday and drop them off at school on Monday morning.

OR

Parent B will have time with the children from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. every second Saturday, supervised by [insert name]. The children will live with Parent A at all other times.

Select one of the following parenting schedules according to the examples provided above

Picking up the children from school

Persons authorized to pick up and drop off the children

Sometimes you or the other parent may not be able to pick up or drop off children as scheduled, and may arrange for someone else to do this. In most cases, this will not cause problems. But, sometimes one of you may have concerns about who picks up and drops off your children. It's a good idea to discuss this issue and decide how you will handle it.

Vacations, holidays, special days

It's important to set out how the regular schedule will change when there is a holiday or special day. It may be a good idea to ask your children how they would like to celebrate holidays or special days.

You will find the most commonly celebrated official holidays below. If you or the other parent celebrates other religious or cultural holidays, or if there are other holidays where you live, it's also a good idea address these in your parenting plan.

To make your children's transitions between you and the other parent as easy as possible, you may wish to consider scheduling vacations and holidays around natural breaks in the year, especially the school year. For example, it may make sense to schedule holidays with one of you at the beginning or end of the summer break.

Children’s birthdays

Parents' birthdays, Mother's Day, Father's Day

School spring break

Christmas

Easter

Thanksgiving

Victoria Day

Summer holidays

Halloween

Scheduling extra-curricular activities

It's usually not a good idea for one parent to schedule extra-curricular activities during another parent's scheduled time with the children without the parent's consent, since this reduces their time with the children.

Telephone and other contact

If there is a potential for conflict on this issue, it can be important to set out some ground rules for contact with a parent while the children are spending time with the other parent. When this is not clear, misunderstandings can sometimes arise about one parent "interfering" with the time of the other parent. Examples of possible approaches are provided below.

You need to decide if and how much telephone or other contact will meet the child's needs. For example, some children who are doing well spending time with a parent, may become upset just by hearing the other parent's voice on the phone. For other children, this will not be an issue. Think about what will work best for your child.

You may wish to speak with your children about how they like to communicate. Do they prefer to use the telephone, texting, e mail, video calls (for example, Skype) or other forms of "virtual" communication?

It's important to remember that the type of communication your children can use will depend on many factors, including their ages and stages of development. For example, young children may find it difficult to have a conversation by telephone.

Childcare

Some parents agree to include a first option for the other parent to provide childcare, so they can be contacted before childcare arrangements are made. In other cases, these types of arrangements can cause conflict between the parents. Decide if you wish to include this option in your parenting plan.

Time with other people

In most cases, children have a relationship with and spend time with other people in their lives, like grandparents or other extended family members, while they're with their parents. But sometimes, parents may choose to include a clause in the parenting plan that specifically provides for contact between the children and another person. For example, this may apply when a person has been very involved in the care of the children, and it's important to the children to maintain that relationship by setting up a regular visit. When you're thinking about this type of provision, it's important to keep in mind the children's overall schedules as well as their involvement in other activities.

Sharing information and communicating about the children

It's important to set out ground rules about what information you will share with each other about the children. It's also a good idea to decide how you will discuss parenting issues that come up from time to time. Good communication is important in a positive co-parenting relationship.

Information about the children

Attendance at parent-teacher meetings

Attendance at child-related events

Communicating about the children

Exchange of contact information

Appointments and other practical arrangements for the children

There are many other decisions that you will need to make for your children, including decisions about:

  • who will buy the children's clothing, sports equipment and toys
  • if these will stay in one home or be carried between homes
  • who will take children to different appointments

Many parents address these issues on an ongoing and informal basis. If you think, however, that there may be conflict between you and the other parent on this issue, it may be a good idea to be clear about these issues in your parenting plan.

Doctor's appointments

Dentist's appointments

Children’s personal items

Children may have favourite clothing or toys that they would like to have with them, wherever they are living, even if these are gifts from one parent. If there is potential for conflict on this issue, it can be important to be clear about where the children may take these items.

Documents

You may have important documents related to your children, like healthcare cards, SIN cards, birth certificates and passports. It's important to decide where you will keep those documents. A sample clause is provided below.

Travel

Vacations

When one parent plans to travel with the children, especially long-distance, it's important to give the other parent notice so they know:

  • where the children are
  • how to contact them while they're away
  • when they're returning

The Government of Canada strongly recommends that children travelling abroad carry a consent letter proving they have permission to travel from every person with the legal right to make major decisions on their behalf, if that person is not with them on the trip. You may wish to include a provision in your parenting plan that deals with consent letters. You may also wish to use recommended consent letters for children travelling abroad.

Passports

When parents are separated or divorced, Canadian Passport officials have precise rules about which parent's signatures are needed on passport applications. They look very closely at agreements and court orders to make sure that the parent who applies has the legal right to apply and that there are no restrictions on travel. You can help avoid delays in getting a passport for your children if you include a clause that sets out which of you must consent to the passport application.

Please note that in the second and third options below, Canadian Passport officials will only issue a passport to a parent if the children live with that parent the majority of the time.

Restrictions on travel

Sometimes, a parent may be worried about letting the children leave the province or country. This may happen where one parent is worried the other parent may abduct the children. If you are worried that the other parent may abduct your children, it's very important that you speak with a family law lawyer to make sure your draft parenting plan protects your children.

You should note that placing a restriction on your children's travel can affect passport applications. If your parenting plan says that the children cannot be removed from a certain province or territory (Option 1 below), passport officials will not issue a passport. You would have to make a new agreement or obtain a court order that allows the children to travel. In cases where you and the other parent decide that the children cannot be removed from a territory without the consent of both parents (Option 2 below), you must both sign the passport application. If you don't, passport officials will not issue a passport.

Moves

Local moves

If you or the other parent moves within a local area, it's important to let the other parent know, because it can affect your parenting arrangement. For example, the other parent needs to know where to pick up and drop off the children. You may also want to give this information to extended family members. Your parenting plan can include provisions to make sure you and the other parent exchange address information.

Relocation

Moves of a significant distance can have a big impact on children and their relationship with their parents. It's important to think about how you want to deal with this issue in your parenting plan, even if you don't anticipate either parent relocating.

It's important to be aware that your provincial and territorial legislation may contain specific rules about moving away with children. If you are making a parenting plan under provincial or territorial legislation, you will want your parenting plan to conform to these rules. For example, if you live in British Columbia, you should know that the Family Law Act requires parents to meet certain conditions.

Additional costs due to distance

When one parent moves away with the children, sometimes the other parent may have significant costs related to spending time with the children. For example, a parent may have to pay for airline and hotel costs. To help both of you spend time with your children, you may wish to include something in your parenting plan about these costs. Examples of costs provisions are included below.

Dispute resolution

An important reason for developing a parenting plan is to limit future conflicts. But things you weren't expecting can happen and can affect your parenting plan. Sometimes, you and the other parent may not be able to agree on how to handle these issues. Also, if your parenting plan says you will make decisions jointly, you may not always be able to agree on every issue.

It's important to include a provision in your parenting plan that says how you will resolve disputes. For example, you may agree that before you ask a judge to decide, you will try another type of dispute resolution. An example is provided below. While this example talks about mediation, you may wish to try other types of dispute resolution, like collaborative law, parent coordination or arbitration (if available in your province or territory). You may also wish to set out how the costs of the dispute resolution mechanism will be divided between you.

Costs

Reviewing, monitoring and changing the parenting plan

From time to time, you may have to make changes to your parenting plan. Remember, if you're thinking about making changes, it's always advisable to discuss the issues and show your draft amended parenting plan to a lawyer before you sign it, to ensure that you understand your legal rights and responsibilities. This is particularly important if the terms of your parenting plan are a formal agreement or have been included in a court order, as those documents should be updated.

First parenting plan review

To make sure your parenting plan is working for your children and is practical for you and the other parent, you may want to include a provision for a first review. This would set a specific time for you to meet to discuss the parenting plan and how it's working. If you decide that you need to make changes, you could go over them at that meeting. If you want to include a provision for a first review, it's important to allow enough time to try out the parenting arrangement first. For example, you may decide to meet after two months.

Natural breaks in the year are often good times to start or end a new arrangement. For example, the end of the school year, the end of the summer, or major school breaks, are good times to make changes.

Note: If you decide to include a first review in your parenting plan, but for some reason the parenting arrangement is not working and you end up in court, the judge may be reluctant to change a "trial" parenting arrangement that they find is working to your children's benefit. The courts are concerned about stability for children and will only change parenting arrangements if there is a good reason and it's in the best interests of the child.

Regular parent meetings

Children need different things from you at different ages and stages, and their schedules will change as they grow. This is especially true as your children become more involved in activities. The younger your children are at the time of your separation or divorce, the more you can expect that their needs will change over time. You may need to adjust your parenting plan. Think about whether your parenting plan should include a provision that you and the other parent meet regularly to look at the parenting plan and how it's working for your children.

Unanticipated changes

Sometimes, you may have changes in your life that you didn't expect when you wrote your parenting plan. Even if you decide to hold annual meetings with the other parent, issues may come up between meetings. For example, if one of you has a new work schedule, you may need to change your parenting plan. It's a good idea to decide how you will address these types of changes.

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