One of the biggest concerns separating or divorcing couples have is what will happen to their children. You have thought about what will happen to your finances, the family home, and other important assets. But your children are the most important part of your life (and your ex-partner’s life too). How will you spend time with your children after your divorce is final? How will you and your co-parent work together to make a schedule that works for both of you?
When you have children from a relationship that is ending, you will need to work on a parenting plan as part of your divorce or separation agreement. The divorce process, however, can take months, sometimes even longer. If you require a co-parenting plan right away, you and your ex can create a temporary custody agreement before your agreement is finalized. With a temporary plan in place, it will help save you time in the future creating a permanent co-parenting plan.
Even a temporary plan is important. If you set up a status quo and it is working, it is likely to not be changed. In fact, the court is reluctant to change a parenting arrangement that is working so make sure even a temporary arrangement is something that is in your children’s long-term best interests.
As you review your options to build a co-parenting plan, you will need to decide upon and outline the following:
- A clear schedule of days and times your children will be with each parent.
- A holiday schedule.
- A decision-making system both you and your ex can agree to.
- Set boundaries for certain future scenarios such as a child meeting a new partner.
- Child support.
- Sharing the cost of extra-curricular costs, daycare and other child-related costs
- Any additional customizations based on your current situation
What if you and your spouse are not ending the relationship on the best terms? Firstly, know you are not alone. Many separating couples have their share of conflict and disputes. What you need to remember though is that your children are your most important shared ‘asset’ with your spouse. This means your co-parenting agreement is also one of the most important elements of your divorce. If you want your children to remain as unaffected by the divorce as possible, you and your ex need to work together – whether you want to or not.
Remember to love your children more than you dislike your ex. In other words, it is important to remember that your children are more important than any personal issues you have with your ex. Let it go for the sake of your children.
View your divorce from a child’s perspective.
Every child reacts to their parent’s divorce differently, but they all have one thing in common. They need to be reminded that both parents still love them, and the divorce is not their fault. Both you and your ex need to work together to make that happen.
Your children are going from having both parents together to an entirely new living situation, so try to see it from their perspective. It is a lot to take on, especially as a younger child. If you want to make the process as seamless as possible for them, keep any heated or legal conversations about your divorce between you and your ex. That is critical. The divorce is only painful for your children when they see the conflict or feel the tension between their parents.
The research is clear. Children don’t suffer from a divorce of their parents per se. Children suffer when exposed to conflict between their parents.
Does that sound “easier said than done”? Absolutely. However, it is not impossible. You both want what is best for your children. If this is the case, you and your ex-spouse need to sit down and create a plan for situations where conflict arises. As an example, if throughout the day something happens, agree to have a conversation about it after your children have gone to bed or in a separate room away from the children or on the phone. Keep it away from the children.
Remember, children thrive the most when they can spend time with and are cared for by both parents. This may not be possible for everyone, but if it is possible for you and your ex, do everything you can to make it happen.
Understand the difference between legal and physical custody
There are two different types of custody you need to keep in mind while creating a co-parenting agreement with your ex. They are:
- Legal custody: The responsibilities of major decision-making that includes the child’s welfare, health, education, and religious upbringing.
- Physical custody: The physical location of a child during the week or on specific holidays.
When creating a schedule for your children, you and your ex will need to decide if equal shared custody works for both of you or not. Typically, 50/50 physical custody is what many parents opt for. If you both decide that your child will spend more time with one parent, you will need to review how this impacts child support you either receive or pay. If both parents have the children more than 40% of the time, child support is less. If someone has the children for less than 40% of the time, the child support is a lot more. It is all set by the Child Support Guidelines.
How to decide on a co-parenting schedule.
When it comes to you and your ex creating a schedule that works for both of you, there are some factors you should keep in mind:
1.The ages of your children:
- Infants and Toddlers (0-5 years): This age group requires frequent transitions between both parents. An important consideration to keep in mind is if one parent is breastfeeding or not. Another is the availability of a parent to take care of the child. This is when children are forming a bond with each parent so it is important they see each other regularly.
- Young Children (6-12 years): Between these ages, children typically rely on a regular schedule. At this age, frequent transitions are more beneficial as they can maintain better connections with both parents this way.
- Tweens and Teens (13-17 years): By this stage, children are giving you input on their own schedules. For example, you will have to work around their extracurriculars, schoolwork and social life. There should be fewer transitions between both parents to minimize disruptions to their schedules. Also at this age, children are able to be apart from a parent for a longer period without it affecting their relationship and bond.
In general, it is good practice to let your children know if there are any disruptions to their schedules ahead of time. It allows them to feel more in control and safe.
2. How well you and your spouse can cooperate
If your relationship with your ex is already good, you can probably make any schedule work. If it is not, your co-parenting schedule will need to be made with specifics in mind. For example, if you need to choose a neutral place to pick up/drop off your children to avoid seeing your ex, perhaps school is the right place to do that or a public space such as Tim Hortons. Usually, the children are just exchanged at a parent’s home.
Regardless of your relationship with your ex, you both need to be flexible with any changes. This flexibility also keeps your children out of conflict. If a special event for your ex lands on your time and they ask for it, just trade times with the children so the kids are able to attend the special event.
While flexibility is necessary, it is important to be as consistent and reliable as possible so that your children can count on a regular schedule. A regular, consistent, predictable schedule is comforting to children.
3. You and your ex- spouse’s commitment level
As long as you and your spouse are committed to keeping the schedule you created (and flexible to any changes), it will benefit your children greatly. If commitment is an issue (for example, if you or your ex travel a lot for work), you may need to revisit your co-parenting plan or work on a new schedule every month. Many shift workers also have to work out a parenting plan one or two months at a time based on their schedule.
4. Right of First Refusal
Would you or your ex have the right to first refusal? The right of first refusal means that if you cannot take care of your children during your ordinary parenting time, then you must ask your co-parent if they can provide childcare before you ask someone else. If the other parent is not available, then the parent whose time it is supposed to be has to find alternate care for the children. This is an important part of your co-parenting plan you should discuss with your ex.
5. Holidays and Vacations
Along with your regular schedule, you should have a plan for what will happen during holidays, vacations, and days off from school or work. Oftentimes, co-parents will alternate or share special holidays and vacations in a way that works both for the parents and the children. There may be other days that are important to you such as a workplace shutdown or a special event you want to take the children to each year. You can specify any time frame in your parenting schedule.
Overall, a good co-parenting plan comes down to communication. This does not mean you need to have a good relationship with your ex. As long as you are both on the same page about scheduling and keeping conflict strictly between each other then you are on the right track.
A family after a divorce is still a family. If you need assistance navigating child custody or child support, we can help you at Galbraith Family Law. We are a law firm that specializes in family and divorce law throughout Ontario with offices in Toronto, Newmarket, and Barrie. From creating a temporary visitation schedule to helping you and your ex agree on a final parenting plan that works for both parties, we can help. To book a consultation with one of our professional family lawyers, give us a call at one of our 5 locations. For our Toronto offices call 647-370-8965, for our Newmarket office call 289-210-4692 or you can reach us at our Barrie office at 705-230-2734. When it comes to the well-being of your children, do not take risks. Work with us today to resolve your family conflict!