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UPDATED Parenting Plans: Is there a Guidebook?


In our post below we talk about the hard work of the Ontario Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts  (“AFCC-O”) in producing a Parenting Plan Guide.

We are pleased to announce that the Alberta chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (“AFCC-A”) has followed suit and have brought together local Justices, professors, social workers and experienced family law lawyers to produce an Alberta version of the Parenting Plan Guide. You can find the Guide and the Template here.

It remains to be seen if the Alberta courts will embrace the Parenting Plan Guide in the way that Ontario courts have. However, it is certainly a good resource for families looking to develop child focused, realistic parenting plans.

When parents are at odds over their parenting schedule they often turn to decision makers, Arbitrators or Judges, to help them determine what arrangement would be in the best interest of the children. As lawyers, we caution our clients that decision makers may not be in best position to make this determination. They do not know the intricacies of the family schedule, they do not have experience with the personalities of the children, they have not witnessed how the family has historically functioned and they are often presented with conflicting evidence from the parents on these points. 

Some families will retain a Parenting Expert to provide evidence. Parenting Experts can be psychologists, social workers or even lawyers who have training in communicating with children and relaying or interpreting the results of their communication to the decision maker. In Alberta, the courts have outlined several ways that a Parenting Expert can provide insight to the family and, in certain situations, they can provide recommendations on what parenting should look like.

Parenting Experts can be invaluable. But the costs of their expertise can be beyond what a family can afford. Sometimes, timelines for their involvement can be lengthy due to demand. And there may be cases in which their involvement is not appropriate, such as with very young children. Parenting Experts and court are aware of these limitations, and some groups have been working to help overcome these obstacles. 

The Ontario Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts  (“AFCC-O”) has taken an interesting step in assembling general advice from Parenting Experts in one place in an attempt to assist decision makers determine parenting schedules. AFCC-O assembled a well-qualified task force who undertook the Parenting Plan Guide Project. The purpose of the Project was to “assist parents, lawyers, mediators and judges in developing child-focussed, realistic parenting plans”. The task force included professors, psychologists, social workers and lawyers – exactly the type of individuals who may be called upon as Parenting Experts for individual families. The final product can be found here (

The Guide contains suggested parenting plans broken down by age group. It also provides practical advice for managing other parenting issues like holidays and missed parenting time. 

In several cases over the last few years, the courts in Ontario have pointed to the suggestions outlined in the AFCC-O’s Guide to help them make decisions about parenting schedules for families who were experiencing conflict. In EMB v MFB (2021 ONSC 4264) the Justice indicated that they “relied heavily” on the Guide. In H v A (2022 ONSC 1560) the Judge stated “the Guide provides a great deal of helpful information and reflects a professional consensus in Ontario about the significant of current child development research for post-separation”. 

There should be some cautionary words spoken about The Guide. Most importantly, it is not binding on Judges whose obligation continues to be to consider the best interests of the child above all else. They must continue to refer to the law including the Divorce Act and any other parenting legislation in their jurisdiction. But, with Judges understandably hopeful to make decisions that positively impact children, I would not be surprised to see the reference to the Guide increase and spread across Canada.

Would the Parenting Plan Guide be helpful for you and your family? Perhaps! It may provide some suggestions that are backed by Parenting Experts. Feel free to check it out at the link above. If you want to discuss your specific parenting situation and how the suggestions in the Guide may or may not apply to you, please contact us.