When You Can’t Agree on the Details of Care
Agreements between co-parents during divorce proceedings can be hard to attain. With emotions at an all-time high and resentments from past arguments brought to the foreground, parents may have difficulties seeing past the storm to work together on creating their parenting plan.
Conflict can, unfortunately, become a priority in these situations. While tough to admit, parents finding themselves unwilling to compromise when it comes to their shared parenting arrangements may be placing the needs of their children temporarily on the back burner.
When this happens, sometimes the courts must step in and take control over the creation of a parenting plan. However, this is far from ideal. Courts are often incredibly busy and must make a decision about a family in a relatively short amount of time.
Exhaust all options
It’s incredibly important that co-parents exhaust all available options when trying to come to an agreement about their parenting plan. Raising children from separate households is a tough situation to acclimate to. It’s not surprising that parents sometimes have a hard time seeing the positive in deciding their parenting schedule, expense reimbursement percentages, and other aspects of shared parenting. It’ll often feel like no one is happy with the decisions being made.
Nevertheless, parents should strive to come to those decisions mutually, whether independently or with the assistance of lawyers or a Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) practitioner. This process may be the most difficult of a divorce, but the effort put into those decisions will help parents put their best foot forward in their new co-parenting relationship.
Rather than contending with an arrangement created by a relative stranger, co-parents who work together to create a plan that works for everybody begin their co-parenting relationship with a spirit of cooperation. That can go along way in helping the adjustment to shared parenting go a little more smoothly in those first few months.
The courts recommend very strongly that parents attempt to reach an agreement outside of court if possible. To aid parents in this endeavour, it's recommended they complete a Parenting Through Separation course, which is offered by various providers throughout the country. These courses cover:
- how separation affects children
- what’s best for children when their parents no longer live together
- tools and tips for dealing with shared parenting, including how to make a parenting plan
You can find more details about these programs, including finding one in your area, here.
In order for the court to become involved in determining contact, parents must typically show that they've completed the PTS course as well as attempted to come to an agreement through FDR. For situations with extenuating circumstances, these requirements may be exempted.
If all necessary requirements have been met, parents can apply for either a Parenting Order, which determines day-to-day care and contact or an Order to Settle a Dispute between Guardians, which settles matters such as where children live or go to school. While an Order to Settle a Dispute between Guardians does not have an application fee, Parenting Order applications require the payment of a $220 fee, though this can be waived in certain circumstances.
When parents go through Family Court to settle disputes about the care of their children, the judge can employ multiple methods to make a determination. They can appoint independent representation for the children, called the 'lawyer for the child', who will be responsible for relaying information about the child's state of mind and welfare.
They can also request that an expert write a specialist report about a certain aspect of a family's situation. According to the Ministry of Justice, the judge has four different reports they can ask the expert to develop, with topics ranging from questions about language and religion to whether or not a child has been influenced to say something.
Parents may be required to pay some of the costs associated with a lawyer for a child or a specialist report. You can learn more about Cost Contribution Orders through the Ministry of Justice website.
The judge overseeing the case may also decide to hold a case conference, hearing, or both in order to make a determination about parenting arrangements. There are four different types of case conferences, as well as multiple types of hearing, which can be read about in further detail here.
Certain situations will necessitate the involvement of the courts, so it’s important to be informed of the process for applying for a parenting order. But if possible, parents should make every effort to work collaboratively toward a solution, always with the best interests of their children in mind. Co-parenting is a long-term relationship, during which parents will have to work together to resolve conflict and disagreements mutually, and parents should strive to begin that relationship in a spirit of cooperation.