Child Custody and Parenting – Making a Parenting Plan

Making a Parenting Plan

How can you make a parenting agreement?

DIY

You and the other guardian can make an agreement yourselves about how you are going to care for the children. If you make an agreement yourselves, you will save money and time. You will also have control over what your agreement says.

Parenting plan is an agreement about where the children will live, how the guardians are going to look after them, and how the guardians will make decisions for them.

Mediation

A mediator helps you work with the other guardian to come up with a plan that will work for everyone. The mediator is a neutral person, and won’t take sides. The mediator won’t force an agreement on you, but will help you come up with an agreement that you both can accept, and that is in the best interests of your children.

You can find Parenting Plan worksheets online in the Parenting After Separation Program workbook (www.albertacourts.ca). There are a lot of private mediators too. You can find one by going to the ADR Institute of Alberta (www.adralberta.com) or the Alberta Family Mediation Society(www.afms.ca). You can find collaborative lawyers by going to www.collaborativepractice.ca

Collaborative Law

You and the other guardian each have your own lawyers, but you agree that you will work together to come up with parenting solutions. You all sign an agreement that says that you will all work together, and that you won’t go to court. If you can’t reach an agreement and end up in court, then you have to hire new lawyers. Most of the communication occurs in four way meetings, with the lawyers, you and the other guardian present, and everyone is encouraged to be honest and openly share information.

If you have children and one parent makes less than $40,000 per year, you might qualify for mediation services through Resolution and Court Administrative Services (RCAS) www.alberta.ca/family-mediation.aspx

Arbitration

An arbitrator is a person the parties appoint to make a decision instead of a judge.

Courts

If you cannot agree on a parenting plan, then you can apply to the court. A judge will decide the parenting arrangement, and will issue a court order. The courts should be a last resort.

Limited scope retainer is an arrangement where a lawyer provides legal services for part of your legal matter, but not all of it.

Reasons to Avoid Going to Court

  • It costs a lot of money. Even if you qualify for Legal Aid, you have to pay that money back. Wouldn’t you rather spend that money on your family?
  • It takes a long time and it is out of your control. Once a case starts, the people involved usually feel powerless.
  • There are a lot of rules that have to be followed and it can be very stressful. The children may also feel stressed.
  • Fighting in court can make it harder to have a good relationship with the other guardian later on.
If you think that you want to represent yourself with some help from a lawyer, then you might want to find a lawyer who offers a limited scope retainer. In this arrangement, a lawyer provides legal services for part of your legal matter, but not all of it. The part that the lawyer will be responsible for is something that you make an agreement over before starting to work together. For example, you could hire a lawyer to draft all of the court documents, but you would represent yourself in the actual application. Or you could hire a lawyer to act like a coach, who would provide you with legal advice when you need it, but you would do all of the other work. You will have to call law firms or look online to find out if a lawyer offers this kind of service.

You should try your best to avoid court. Sometimes there are reasons to go to court.

  1. You are concerned about the children’s safety when they are with the other guardian. Your concerns must be real, and a good question to ask is, “If we were still in a relationship, would I leave the children alone with the other guardian?”
  2. If you feel unsafe or intimidated.
  3. If one guardian is preventing the other from seeing the children. Judges can make orders that enforce time with the children.
  4. If one person is ignoring the situation and won’t deal with the break up. Sometimes a court application can act as a way to get a conversation going between the guardians. You can stop the court process at any time if you are able to make a parenting agreement yourselves.
  5. If one guardian has taken the children and can’t be located. If you are concerned that the other guardian will take the children somewhere without permission, you should talk to a lawyer right away.

A judge will try to come up with a parenting solution that is fair, and that will work best for the children. It’s not about being right or wrong. Many people think that a judge will tell them that they’ve done everything right and that the judge will somehow punish the other guardian for their behaviour. If this is your goal when you’re going to court, you will be disappointed.

Some people think that if they compromise, their children won’t think that they are loved. As if by fighting in court, the parents will prove to the children how much they love them. Your kids don’t want you to fight. Your children need you and they need the other guardian too.

If you’ve tried one way to come up with a parenting plan and that didn’t work, try a different way. If you haven’t tried mediation, why not try it now? Do everything you can to avoid having to go to court.

If you end up in court, then you might need extra help. If you don’t have a lawyer to help you, you should contact Resolution and Court Administrative Services (RCAS) to find out if there are people who can help guide you as you make an application. www.albertacourts.ca/rcas.aspx

Do I need to hire a lawyer to help me?

Lawyers can be helpful in a lot of ways. They can give you advice, tell you court procedure, negotiate for you, and represent you in court. Sometimes it is a good idea to have a lawyer look at the parenting plan before you sign it. The lawyer can tell you if the agreement follows the law or not. You will have to see a different lawyer than the other guardian. If you are going to make an application, you don’t need a lawyer to go to court. People who do their own court application are called self-represented litigants.

How do I make an agreement legal?

You should not sign any agreements if you are feeling pressured or forced. You should be sure that you understand what you are agreeing to, and that what you are agreeing to is legal. You can ask a lawyer to review the agreement before you sign it. Once you feel prepared to sign the agreement, then both you and the other parent should sign it. You do not need anyone to witness your signature if all you are agreeing to is a parenting plan, but you can arrange for a witness if you want to do so.

Get more information about consent orders at Resolution and Court Administrative Services www.alberta.ca/assets/documents/rcas-consent-order-custody-access-child-and-spousal-support.pdf / www.alberta.ca/apply-consent-order.aspx

You could also choose to formalize your agreement as a consent order with the courts. If the agreement is in the form of a court order, then it can be enforced through the courts. You can only use a consent order form if you and the other parent agree on all the terms that you are including in the order. You will need to start an action with the courts and may need to pay a filing fee.

Lawyers can give you advice, tell you court procedure, negotiate for you, and represent you in court.

Sometimes it is a good idea to have a lawyer look at the parenting plan before you sign it.

You should NOT rely on this webpage for legal advice. It providesgeneral information on Alberta law only. March 2018.
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