When Mark and his ex-wife split up, the Parenting Plan helped him to focus on making child arrangements that were in the best interests of his two sons.
When my ex-wife and I divorced we were struggling to communicate and come to an agreement about child arrangements for our two sons. We entered into family court proceedings at the end of summer 2014 and the situation became even more difficult and stressful for all of us.
I had spoken to a number of lawyers, and decided that I would only appoint a collaborative lawyer, or one who is a member of Resolution, an organisation that works to help people cooperate in a non-confrontational manner, avoiding inflammatory language, in order to achieve outcomes in the best interests of the children. They advised that calm negotiation achieves the best results and I hoped my ex-wife and I could resolve matters this way.
I had also considered trying family mediation but the other party wrote to say that they did not want to follow this route.
Court proceedings became inevitable, and were both stressful and tiring. Soon after the first court order had been made I realised that there were some important arrangements which hadn’t been clarified in it, and unfortunately they became contentious.
These included agreeing what actions my ex-wife and I would take when the children were sick or off from school on inset training days, and also arrangements around indirect contact. Once again we were unable to reach an agreement and had to go back to court to get a revised court order.
If I’d had access to the Parenting Plan back in the summer of 2014, before the first hearing, I believe my ex-wife and I would have been in a clearer, calmer position to sit down together and negotiate the child arrangements in the best interests of my sons.
Perhaps we could have worked through the booklet together to agree arrangements that we were all happy with, avoiding the need for court proceedings. When I was sent the Parenting Plan by my Cafcass officer, for completion before the court hearing, I went home and worked through it by myself, then took advice from my new partner and my parents, as a sense check.
I found it useful because it raised a number of questions which helped me to consider parenting situations and eventualities I might not have otherwise anticipated – exactly the reason why I had to return to court to amend the court order regarding my sons in the first place!
The Parenting Plan prompts you to think about those situations that may arise where both parents need to make a decision together; for example, my ex-wife and I needed to talk when my eldest son was choosing his GCSE options. It also encourages forward planning: how might childcare dynamics change when new partners are introduced, as in my own case?
When you are in the thick of it, emotions run high and it is hard to see things clearly. Viewing my situation objectively and also taking the wishes and feelings of my ex-wife and children into consideration meant I was able to gather a sense of what we all really wanted, and also what seemed reasonable for all concerned.
If you’re struggling to come to agreement, the Plan will help you take a step back from your situation and view it in its entirety so you can decide what is in the best interests of your children. I also believe that even if you try to complete the Plan with answers you think are “text book” or reasonable, that doesn’t matter; the fact that you are trying to rationalise and be self-aware is a really good thing.
Crucially, the Parenting Plan actually made me reconsider and revise the outcomes I sought to achieve for my family in the subsequent hearing.
What’s more, it is completely free and available to anyone on the Cafcass website, irrespective of whether or not you have chosen to go down the route of court proceedings. It’s certainly a lot cheaper than spending thousands of pounds on solicitors’ fees!
In my opinion, the Parenting Plan should go hand in hand with the MIAM (Mediation Information Assessment Meeting) which is mandatory for both parties before they decide to enter family proceedings.
It’s important that parents are willing to participate, negotiate and work together to decide on arrangements, whether filling out the Parenting Plan separately, or ideally together.
If we’d had this resource at the beginning of our separation, I believe my ex-wife and I would have been able to work amicably to agree on the best arrangements for our sons and we would have saved a lot of money, time and angst. Most importantly the strain of our separation on our boys could have also been far less.