Cafcass’s Parenting Plan – a review

April 28, 2014

- Whatever you do, don’t mention lawyers.

The provision of legal services for family cases is going through it’s largest reform in decades.  An emphasis is being placed on parents being able to resolve their own problems without having to apply to the courts to do that for them.  Mediation has received the stated support of the government – if not financial support.

A part of this movement is The Parenting Plan booklet published and freely distributed by CAFCASS, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.  You can download the PDF version, or read it online, by clicking here.

The Parenting Plan is confusing. 

It is unclear whether this booklet is intended to be the Parenting Plan or simply a booklet explaining what a parenting plan might be.  There are helpful looking headlines about what a parenting plan is and why they are helpful but detail is lacking throughout. 

For example, the 47 word section entitled “What does it consist of?” states the following;

“Your Plan will set out practical decisions about children’s care in areas such as:

  • communication and dealing with differences;
  • living arrangements – who your child will spend time with (including other family members such as grandparents), how often and when;
  • money;
  • religion;
  • education;
  • health care; and
  • emotional well-being.”

There is no information as to whether the plan is a formal document, what format it should take or what status it has.  For example does something that is written in the Parenting Plan bind both parents or is it simply a stated intention?  It is all terribly vague.

The advice comes across as being superficial to the point of being glib.

“Try to focus, so your attention isn’t divided” is one of the tips or “Take a deep breath, stop and think: what can I do about this situation?” are typical of the suggestions from the section on Help With Communicating.

Page 15 of The Parenting Plan booklet is titled “Your plan” and further confuses things.

It is drafted as if it is a formal document in the way it is laid out and in the language that it uses.  For example; 

“We recognise our children’s rights to:

  • emotional and physical safety, stability and security;
  • feel loved by both of us and significant family members;
  • know and be cared for by both of us and significant family members; and
  • develop independent and meaningful relationships with each of us”

but it does not explain if these rights are compulsory or if if they are a mere suggestion of what parents might agree to.

Finally, this official looking page (dated signatures of both parents are required, or suggested, it is not clear which) refers to another document being attached to this page – suggesting that this itself is not the plan;

“We have an existing Parenting Plan dated [insert date].  We will review this Plan on [insert date] (optional, see page 14)”

If the review date is explicitly stated as being optional, does that mean that the rest of this document is not?

Confusion reigns.

Which brings us onto our final point.

Where should parents go if they require assistance?

Reference is made to a website for information, to attend a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) or a “dispute resolution service.”

There is a page on how mediation can help – and it undoubtedly can in many cases, but nowhere is there a suggestion that you might consider taking legal advice to see what the law says in relation to families and making family arrangements or how the law or the court process operates.

This omission is startling.  Our protest is not the self-interested whine of a family lawyer; the government’s desire to see more parents resolving their own disputes is admirable but the wholesale airbrushing out of the legal profession as an appropriate and useful source of information and assistance for parents is not helpful and could lead to parents making agreements that are inappropriate.

Let us help you

If you are thinking about or going through separation or divorce and want to know what the position is in relation to making parenting arrangements for your children then contact us today.  Family Law in Partnership are award winning divorce solicitors, mediators and family counsellors in London.  You can email us, confidentially, on hello@FLiP.co.uk or telephone us on 020 7420 5000.