- When parents separate making an agreement about how the children will be cared for can benefit families.
- Agreements allow parents to set up any arrangement for caring for the children that works for them.
- If one parent does not follow the agreement the other parent can ask the court for help to enforce the agreement.
Benefits of an Agreement
When parents make an agreement about parenting, they decide what is best for their children. If they cannot agree they can ask the court for a parenting order. If there is a court case, the court, not the parents, decides what is best for the children.
Before the courts will make a decision about parenting, parents must try to resolve their issues. Parents will need to use one of the family dispute resolution processes outlined below.
There may be other benefits to deciding on parenting arrangements by agreement. It can cost less money and take less time than going to court. Parents who decide on the arrangements may more likely to follow the plan. Parents can also improve their ability to communicate with each other through the process of reaching an agreement. It is hard for children when their parents argue about looking after them. If parents can agree their children will benefit.
Reaching an Agreement
Sometimes parents can work things out themselves. The good thing about agreements is that they can contain whatever terms the parents want. Each parent may have a draft of what they want. The parents can share their drafts with each other. After discussing the drafts one or both parents can write up what they have agreed on. This draft can be used as a basis for further negotiation.
Sometimes parents need help from a third-party to reach an agreement. There are different ways to get this help.
Mediation is not couples counselling or therapy. A mediator cannot make an order or force parents to agree. A mediator may help parents find solutions they had not considered before. Parents discuss the issues and make joint decisions about how to settle them. The mediator can then help them put the decisions down on paper.
Parents generally meet with the mediator several times. The first meeting is often used to determine if mediation is a good option for the parents. At the first meeting the mediator will explain how mediation will work and the rules for future meetings. Sometimes the mediation process can include other people such as a new partner or extended family members.
Collaborative Law Services
When collaborative law services are used each parent has their own lawyer. Both lawyers and the parents work together to come to an agreement.
Parents and the collaborative professionals all sign an agreement that outlines how they will work together. Everyone agrees that the lawyers will not represent either parent in court if the matter later goes to court. Both parents and the collaborative professionals meet together to try and negotiate an agreement. Parents each receive advice from their own lawyer during the meetings and negotiations. If an agreement is reached the lawyers will create a written agreement for the parents to sign.
Unlike other professionals who can help parents reach an agreement, an arbitrator makes decisions for the parents. For this process to be used both parents must agree in writing to give the arbitrator the authority to make decisions. Both sides must be given a chance to present their case and to respond to the other parent’s case. Parents must be treated equally and fairly. The arbitrator cannot favour one parent over the other. Once the arbitrator has heard all the evidence they make a decision, called an award. When the arbitrator is making a decision about parenting arrangements the arbitrator must consider the best interests of the child.
Sometimes even after there is a parenting agreement or parenting order, parents can continue to have disputes. In these cases parents can agree to use a parenting coordinator. A court can also order that parents use a parenting coordinator.
A parenting coordinator works with the parents and can make decisions about the child’s…
- daily routine and parenting time schedule
- participation in extracurricular activities and special events
- childcare arrangements with people who do not have parenting time or decision-making authority •
- discipline •
- transportation and exchange for parenting time
- parenting time during vacations and special occasions
- communication between a parent and the child when the child is not in the parent’s care
A parenting coordinator cannot make a decision about: •
- How decision-making responsibilities are divided between the parents.
- Giving parenting time to someone who does not already have parenting time with the child.
- Relocation of the child. (A move is considered a relocation if it would significantly impact the children’s relationship with the other parent.)
In making any decisions the parenting coordinator must only consider the best interests of the child. The court can overrule the decision of parenting coordinator.
What should be in an Agreement?
Parents need to decide for themselves what they want and need to include in their parenting agreement. The list that follows includes some of the more common issues that parents may want to address. Some parenting plans will need to address issues not listed here while others may not include all of the issues listed here. Every family situation is unique.
- Decision-Making – including who will make the decisions, whether there is a duty to consult or to inform the other parent and what will happen if parents who share decision-making cannot agree
- Residence – including whether the child will live mostly with one parent or share time between the parents
- Change of Residence – what happens if either parent decides to move, including notice and/or permission requirements
- Parenting Time – when each parent will see the child
- Activities – including attendance, supervision and transportation
- Holidays and Special Occasions – whether there will be changes to the regular parenting schedule
- Parenting Exchanges – who is responsible for drop-off and pick-up and where this will take place
- Communication (third parties) – how communication with schools, daycares, teams etc. will take place
- Communication (parents and child) – how and when information concerning the child and the parenting arrangement will be communicated between the parents, as well as how parents will communicate with the child while the child is in the other parent’s care
- Conduct – rules concerning the behaviour of parents towards each other and the child
- Disputes – how disputes concerning the parenting arrangement will be resolved (e.g. with the help of a mediator, etc.)
- Changes – how and when the parenting agreement can be changed
The Agreement Maker that is part of Family Law Saskatchewan or the online Parenting Plan Tool developed by the Department of Justice Canada can both be used to create a parenting agreement. Both of these tools guide people through the process by including details about all the key aspects of a parenting agreement and give people numerous options within each area to tailor-make an agreement that works for them.
When an Agreement is not followed
Sometimes one or both parents do not follow the terms of an agreement. One parent might interfere with the other parent’s time. They might not have the child ready for pick-ups. They might schedule activities for the child during the other parent’s time. Sometimes one parent does not spend time with the child when they are supposed to. They might miss visits or be late for visits. In more extreme cases one parent may prevent the other parent from seeing the child at all or may even abduct the child.
There are a number of possible options when this is happening. Parents can start by talking the situation over and finding out why the problems are occurring. Parents can get help from a counsellor or a mediator.
If no solution can be reached a parenting agreement can be enforced by the court. The court can only enforce a parenting agreement if it is in writing. Depending on what is happening there are a number of orders the court can make. The court can…
- change the parenting arrangements
- appoint a mediator or parenting coordinator
- require a parent to agree to pay money to the court if they do not follow the parenting arrangement
- order that a parent who has been denied time with the children be given extra time with the children