Step 1: Consider what’s best for your childrenGoing through a divorce is stressful for everyone involved, but it can be particularly difficult for children. Your parenting plan should be made with your child’s best interests in mind. Avoid letting any hard feelings you may have towards your ex-partner get in the way of doing what’s right for your child.
What counts as a child’s best interests will include their basic physical needs as well as more complex emotional ones. Some things you will need to consider include:
- Where your child will live when they stay with you or your co-parent
- How far your child will be from their school, friends, and hobbies
- How you will fit childcare around your work schedule
- Which parent your child is closest to emotionally
Every family is different and there may be things you need to consider in your parenting plan that are specific to your situation. If your child requires frequent hospital treatment, for example, you and your ex-partner will both need easy access to medical services for when they’re staying with you.
Step 2: Decide on a parenting scheduleYour parenting schedule will set out the daily routine of how you and your ex-partner will share the practical parenting responsibilities for your child. While your child’s best interests always come first when you are deciding on a parenting schedule, you need to put in place a schedule that you and your co-parent can both stick to.
There are no hard and fast rules about what your parenting schedule should look like and it may make sense to change it over time.
If you have young children, consider sharing parenting responsibilities with your ex-partner equally – younger children usually benefit from having close contact with both their parents. When they grow older, you could decide to look after your children most of the time and have your co-parent look after them at weekends.
CAFCASS’s Co-Parenting Hub can you help you to decide on a parenting schedule that works for you.
Step 3: Open channels of communication to reach decisionsA successful parenting plan requires regular cooperation with your co-parent. While your parenting schedule sets out who’s primarily responsible for your child on a day-to-day basis, major moments in your child’s life will come up that require you to reach a decision together.
Some of these major life decisions include:
- Where your child will go to school
- Taking your child on holiday
- Taking your child to live abroad
Bear in mind that there may be emergencies that require a quick response, such as if your child gets injured. Be prepared by making sure that you and your ex-partner are always able to reach each other.
Step 4: Work out how you will share expensesAs parents, you both have something called ‘parental responsibility’. This means that you are both responsible for financing your child’s essential living costs. However, you may need to give your ex-partner regular payments to help them cover the costs of looking after your child – this is known as ‘child maintenance’. Typically, child maintenance is paid to the parent with a lower income.
You can set out in your parenting plan who child maintenance should be paid to and how much it should be. There is a calculator on GOV.UK that you can use to calculate child maintenance costs.
Step 5: Stick to your planOnce you have your parenting plan set in place, it’s important that you stick to what you agreed.
While divorce is rarely painless for children, maintaining a parent plan will give your child a secure and familiar relationship with both you and your ex-partner.