Making arrangements to ensure your children are cared for and happy is the most important part of the divorce process for parents, but it can be challenging.
A good way to do this is by using a parenting plan. A parenting plan is a voluntary agreement between divorcing parents which describes how you will both raise your children. You can download a free version here.
A parenting plan is not as unusual as it sounds. You most likely had a parenting plan when you were with your partner, but it just wasn’t written down. You and your partner probably established rules for things like mealtimes, bedtimes, and how much TV your children could watch. These rules and expectations constituted your parenting plan.
Now that you are separated, you need to talk with your partner to agree on how you will bring up your children. A parenting plan provides a framework for this conversation. A coherent plan will help reduce misunderstandings and conflict between divorcing parents, and provide everyone involved with clear boundaries.
If your relationship is particularly strained, approach this arrangement as a business partnership, where your ‘business’ is raising your children in the best possible way. In this context, a parenting plan is somewhat like a business plan, as it describes how you will manage your business.
How Divorcing Parents use a Parenting Plan
A parenting plan starts by detailing when both parents will have access to their children. This can be a difficult topic to raise, especially in the early stages of separation and divorce. However, the parenting plan is a long term plan—it is where we want to get to. So start slowly, get the basics in place first and build on them.
You need to think about when and how often you will both see your children. Understandably, you will want to see them as much as possible, but this will be dependent on several factors.
Who will the children live with? Are you aiming for 50/50 shared care, or will one parent be the main carer? Will you see them on weekends only, or can you see them on some weekdays as well? How long will you see them for? During the day or overnight too? Think about what help or resources you will need to keep in contact.
Don’t forget about the children’s other relationships too, such as with grandparents. Grandparents will miss your children as well, so consider how often you can facilitate those visits.
Dealing with Holidays
How will the school holidays be split between you and your partner you are divorcing? Will one of you be able to look after them during all holidays, or do you need to organise childcare? Think about your plan for special events, such as birthdays and Christmas. Will you alternate or both attend? The children might be delighted if both parents were present on Christmas Day, but this can sometimes be difficult. So, what will you do? Will you visit during the day? And how will you decide who buys which presents?
If you have young children, agree on who will buy presents for other special occasions such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Will you do it or will the grandparents?
Some elements of the plan will depend on your child’s age. If they are young, they are unlikely to have their own phone, in which case the frequency of contact via phone or video messaging will greatly depend on the current state of your relationship between divorcing parents. If you’re on good terms, communication is likely to be more regular and flexible. But if the relationship is strained, you might have to schedule specific times during the week to speak to them.
The next section of the parenting plan covers house rules in each home. Many rules will be the same for both divorced parents, but it’s okay if they are different, as long as there are clear boundaries, and the differing rules don’t negatively affect the other parent. For example, it would be unreasonable to regularly allow your children to stay up past 10 p.m. on a Sunday if their bedtime is usually 7 p.m. and if late nights make them too tired for school the next day.
Children need routine, so parents can consider the various elements of their day and decide whether they need to be included in the plan. What time do they wake up? What do they have for breakfast? Will you have rules about eating certain foods before treats or staying at the table until everyone is finished? When should homework be done? What other tasks or jobs do they have? How much screen time can they have? How will you discipline them?
Discuss internet and social media access. Will you let them go on YouTube or Facebook? Up to what age classification of films can they watch? What computer games can they play? Can they play with their friends outside? What time do they have to be home?
How can you both be involved in your children’s education? What arrangements will you make for parents’ evening, school plays, and sports days? How will you discuss and agree on choices around school, college, and university?
Communicating with your Ex
A parenting plan also outlines how you and your divorced partner will communicate with one another. Will it be via phone? Text? WhatsApp or email? Are there inappropriate times to contact each other? What is the procedure for an emergency?
How will you manage disagreements between the two of you? What decisions, if any, must you make jointly? How much notice do you need in the event of a change in arrangements?
Don’t be a perfectionist and assume that you must reach an agreement on every aspect of the plan for it to be worthwhile. Start with the essentials and secure your time with your children. Further arrangements will develop over time as you and ex-spouse adjust to the dynamics of your new parenting partnership.
Planning a Divorce with Children
Divorce is hard on both children and parents. Often parents stay together in a loveless marriage thinking that this is the best for their children. But children see more than we think and can sense if one or both parents are miserable in a relationship, which is not healthy for anyone.
In nearly all cases, and certainly when children are involved, it is better to prepare your separation in advance, rather than letting it play out in the heat of the moment. A blazing row and storming out of the house can be very traumatic for children. Separation is always stressful, but you can reduce this stress with a plan.
An uncontested divorce is easier for children and parents. Reducing conflict and not involving your children in disputes shields them from potentially harmful emotional stress. Some contested divorces require children to be dragged into court and cross-examined. And hostility between parents increases when the court is involved, which deeply affects children whether they have to attend or not.
Uncontested divorces are also less expensive. The court fees, solicitor fees, time away from work, travel costs, and childcare all add up to a lot of money, money that we believe you could put to better use on you and your children.
Cost of Divorce for Parents
Regardless of how you decide to deal with your divorce, you have to pay a mandatory court fee, which is currently £593. This doesn’t mean you have to attend court. This fee merely pays for the court’s staff to process your divorce.
This means that even if you decide to handle the entire divorce process yourself, you will still be required to pay the court fee, unless you are eligible for the ‘help with fees’ scheme. See below for more information on this.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Divorce for Parents
DIY is the cheapest way to get a divorce, but it’s only viable for divorcing parents if you both agree to the divorce and the reasons why you’re getting one.
You can apply for a divorce through the government website or download the documents and do it by post.
A word of caution, though. You will need to take the time to research the procedure and learn the legal jargon to ensure you don’t make any mistakes. Mistakes result in delays, and correcting applications can incur further charges.
Provided you are patient and have time to spare, this is your cheapest option. The cost of filing for divorce is zero. The only cost would be the £593 court fee.
Online Divorce Services for Divorcing Parents
If you don’t have the time or willingness to go down the DIY route, the next lowest cost option for divorcing parents is to use an online divorce service like Easy Online Divorce. We offer transparent, fixed-price services for uncontested divorces, and there are options for every budget.
The most basic services assist you in doing it yourself by providing all of the documents, along with a guide on how to complete them and the rest of the divorce process.
For divorcing parents who want to remove the stress of filling in court forms and the worry of making mistakes, we also have services where you only need to fill in a simple questionnaire and we will send you all of the official documents, drafted and ready for the courts.
With both services, you still file your own divorce petition, but they give you support along the way to make sure you’re doing everything correctly.
However, if you don’t want to deal with any forms, websites, or courts at all, and want all of the stress and hassle of divorce taken off your hands, we also offer ‘fully managed’ divorce services. With this service we draft and file all the divorce documents with the courts, and manage communication between the court, your spouse, and any opposing solicitors.
If your spouse agrees to a divorce or if you’ve been separated for more than five years, online divorce services are your best option. The ‘fully managed’ packages give the same (and often better) service than a high-street solicitor would provide, but at a fraction of the cost.
And often online divorce services are quicker, because the central aim of their business is for their clients to divorce. In contrast, solicitors charge by the hour and make a significant amount of money from conflict between divorcing couples.