Jenn – I tell families that I work with to be child focused, meaning do your best put your feelings for one another aside. So people whether they have to get some extra help, whether with a divorce coach or a therapist, to be able to put that relationship in the back burner that relationship the marriage that they once had and focus on how to make things the best they can be for the children moving forward.
Nicky – What’s up CorrNation! Welcome to another episode of Coin for Thought. So today on the show I have Jennifer Barkin. Jennifer is an accredited family mediator, she is a social worker and she’s also a parenting coordinator and today we’re going to be talking about parenting on the show. So thank you so much for joining us Jennifer, it’s such a pleasure to have you.
Jenn – Thank you for having me Nicky. I’m really happy to be here.
Nicky – Yeah! So I feel like you know when people get divorced um you know it’s always like the kids and uh parenting plans are always such a huge concern because the kids are always left in a situation, regardless of what their age is really, um they’re left in a situation where they have absolutely no control over what’s happening in the divorce. They have no say um because their parents are going through what they’re going through and they’re going through it however they choose to go through it um and at the same time they’re facing a lot of the consequences of the decisions that their parents might be making whether it be strategically or whether it might might be emotionally. You know and we live in this kind of society where there’s so many people going through a divorce right now, it’s very very common and even in a situation like that people don’t understand how to get divorced. So they don’t always do it the right way. They kind of go with the flow. So I wanted to talk about parenting plans and what is a parenting plan and kind of talk through that.
Jenn – Okay so when parents separate from one another and there’s children, the parents have to come up with some ideas of how they’re going to take care of the kids that they have together um moving forward. Right? So there’s so many decisions that need to be made, so many decisions that need to be looked at. I tell families that I work with to be child focused meaning do your best put your feelings for one another aside. So somebody could have been a crummy spouse or you know there could be a lot of animosity from the relationship but now you have to treat this like a business relationship moving forward. Your children are your business. You want them to thrive you want them to do well. So people whether they have to get some extra help whether with a divorce coach or a therapist to be able to put that relationship in the back burner. That relationship the marriage that they once had and focus on how to make things the best they can be for the children moving forward.
Nicky – Okay so what does a parenting plan entail. So when like obviously you’re in the mediation sector so someone comes to you and they say okay I I understand what I want he understands what he wants um you know our assets are split in this in this way. Now we have to talk about support and we have to talk about how we’re going to spend time with our kids and what that entails.
Jenn – Yes so um usually people aren’t even sure what the parenting plan is and what that means. So I like to explain that a parenting plan, a good one, should be a living document meaning open to changes over the years because your kids are going to change over the years and their needs are going to change. Um but other than the two things that parents generally know that should be in there, which the time they spend with their children and they all use the old word um access. We don’t use that word anymore we call it parenting time and who’s going to have the decision making. Decision making was formally called custody and people often confuse the two but that decision making the former custody has nothing to do with the time that you’re seeing your children again that’s the parenting time. So those are just two things and the two major things that go into the parenting plan but so many other decisions have to be put in there and or should be put in there because it’ll keep the relationship between you and your ex running a little more smoothly, hopefully and also have some reliability, consistency for the children and hopefully keep people out of court down the road because there’s no misinterpretation. Everything’s there how’s Christmas Eve going to be spent, who’s doing the driving, who’s renewing the passports, are parents sharing in the cost of the passports. Um in Ontario if you want to leave uh Canada um to go on a trip with your children you need something called a notarized letter of travel. So how are you going to get that? Um are you going to reimburse the other parent? By what method? So there are so many different things. I said a little while ago about a good parenting plan should um have something in there about what happens if the children’s needs change, which they will when somebody does a parenting plan for a three-year-old, I have no idea if that three-year-old is going to play around hockey I don’t know if that three-year-old is going to be a ballerina. Um are you going to write things about the extracurriculars. How many is there a cap on the cost? What if you cannot agree? What if there’s a change in circumstances. What if somebody remarries? There’s so much that can go in there.
Nicky – So essentially like it’s very comprehensive for the child, to protect the child’s interest to make sure that regardless of what the child ends up doing that those interests are essentially protected.
Jenn – Hopefully hopefully people are going to abide by their parenting plan they’re supposed to. What’s pretty interesting in the past few years um there is now this agreement that children should have a say in matters that concern them and that comes from a treaty called the Hague Treaty. So children should have a voice. Children should have a say in their lives and what we do know is we don’t want to ask children in the case of separation or divorce, what the kids want to do because children are going to tell what I call the more vulnerable parent, what they want to hear you know the one you know with all the tears that might not be the real story. Um children may tell both parents what they each want to hear and this is really not what’s going on. So a lot of parents they want to
Nicky – Because children want to please. They want to make sure like, they know that their parents are splitting up they know that their parents are unhappy. they want to make like for them they want their parents to be together they just want everything to be okay so being able to say certain things that might not necessarily resonate with them. They might not have the maturity to really articulate what they might be feeling. Um and they just want everything to be able to go in a lot of times parents too like keep a lot of um their divorce uh away from their children you know because
Jenn – Should
Nicky – They should because a lot of it is inappropriate right.
Jenn – Children should never be brought into the print the parents conflict. Um parents chose to marry one another. Parents choose to divorce one another but the children are the children forever. It’s not their fault that their parents didn’t choose the right partner for them. So what you want to do as a parent going through this pro you know this whole thing, you want to ensure that your kids are going to grow up healthy, well adjusted and what the research does show is if we do not drag our kids into our mess, we keep them out of conflict, they often do even better than children that grow up and intact families and why is that because just because the family is intact meaning everybody’s living under the same roof, it doesn’t mean that it’s a happy household. That household could have a lot of yelling screaming abuse. Right a child that grows up in a peaceful happy home with a lot of love will fare better than a child who grows up in that situation.
Nicky – Right no and I 100% agree with that and I also find like a lot of times as moms right we want to be able to keep our children we want our children to stay with us and children need both parents and a lot of times say for example if it depends like for me I work a lot my my husband takes care of our kids. Right mostly than than me and I feel like you know even if your child is going and living with another parent for half a week, right it actually gives each parent quite a lot of time to be able to have that individual one on time one-on-one time with that child versus when they were married and then they were doing their thing and then one parent was always compensating on that time because now they’re alone. So they they have to make that time for that kid for like the half a week that they have with them because they don’t have the other parent to kind of buffer them. You know does that make sense?
Jenn – Absolutely I actually um had a mediation um was it last Friday night and the mom um of this couple she had been a stay-at-home parent through the marriage. You know I always say that a marriage is like a system and people whether this one takes out the garbage and this one does the grocery shopping and the cooking but after people separate their roles can change and people often have a very difficult time. Especially if they were a primary caregiver, right that stay-at-home mom who was always there uh wrapping their head around that oh my kids may go to dads half the time or 30% whatever that time is that my children are no longer with me. So because that’s a lot of the identity of that person right. So it was actually the very first time that I had a client tell me to “f” because I’m very gentle but I did say that you know dad wants time with the kids and dad wants overnight it’s with the children and while I hear that during the marriage um he wasn’t around much et cetera et cetera. What are your concerns and there were no health or safety concerns or acknowledge or you know she acknowledged that the children had a great relationship with their father but she just didn’t want to give up that time right. So after that “f” off I said okay you know I think what you need to do is get some legal advice and then we can come back to this. Um
Nicky – Because mediation is um you know perfect when two people are on the same page. They understand their challenges, they understand the strengths, they understand their differences, they understand all these things and they’re coming to mediation from a very mature space, they’re coming to mediation from a very level headed space and they’re coming with an idea that okay like I’m ready to learn. I’m ready to understand um and that that position honestly in all honesty is a very idealistic position to be in because even even so like there’s couples that like it getting a divorce is extremely emotional. Right and especially if you’ve been in a marriage for real and long or if you’ve gone over and above for a certain person while self-sacrificing or if there’s been certain issues in your marriage. So all of that can contribute to that emotion but you know it’s when you have mediation you have to also consider like you’re you you have to honor your marriage in a way where now you’re splitting things, you’re you’re saying goodbye to everything and you’re you’re paying significantly less than what you would pay you know a lawyer essentially. So you know depending on the situation right is that true?
Jenn – Kind of kind of um a couple of things. It used to be traditionally that the people who attended mediation or came to mediation were people that were you know it was just a nicer separation. Um people still liked each other to an extent. They could focus on the kids. Um they didn’t want a whole big battle. I’ve seen change since I studied. I’m also a roster mediator for the court-based mediation service. So I’m seeing a lot of changes and now well number one and the family law act changed this year and it says that people should try if at all possible um some form of alternative dispute resolution before going to trial. So we’re getting a lot of high conflict. Um Covid the courts were closed for a long time and there’s also so many backlogs, that people are coming that who would normally let’s say they want to go to court because I think mediation is going to be faster. Sometimes it’s just about money. Um not about anything to do with wanting this to be adequate. Right? Um so seeing we’re still seeing people that are those amicable people, that want things to go nicely and um have the family’s best interests at heart but getting a lot more high conflict.
Nicky – So what happens if somebody you know doesn’t stick to their parenting plan? What are what is the recourse for that okay?
Jenn – So if somebody’s not their parenting plan um is one part of their separation agreement. The separation agreement is filed at the court right so it’s on record you’re supposed to follow this um the two parts are the parenting plan and the financial right. So somebody’s not following and it happens all the time right. Um so what what can be done? Well depending on the parenting plan I mean there are some things that some people want in a parenting plan that aren’t necessarily enforceable. Right? They’re more put there is a good faith. For example um introduction of new partners what that’s going to look like and it might say that both parties acknowledge that the children should not be introduced to multiple people. Um however you know written a lot more formally but however if it’s a relationship of six months or more let’s say leading to cohab or marriage that would be okay but could that really be enforced? Right. Um but the other things um that go in there the child support um you know if somebody’s withholding children which the lawyers were seeing a lot of that in Covid too um because people would have a different you know this one’s not being cautious and this parent and etc and there’s a lot out there about that and you know what the judges have said but
Nicky – That’s really slippery you know
Jenn – Yeah yeah so sometimes people don’t follow and they might come back to mediation. Even if they were never in mediation. Um I’ll get calls that we have a parenting plan we have a court order um this one’s not following if because mediation’s voluntary both people would have to agree to see the mediator. So you know we can amend things and as a mediator I’ll find out why, what’s not working here? Right? Why isn’t this being adhered to because maybe there have been changes. This could be a seven-year-old parenting plan and now I have a ten-year-old not a three-year-old
Nicky – Right
Jenn – So um
Nicky – What what are weird things that you know that often are included in parenting plans
Jenn – or sometimes
Nicky – Yeah or go into parenting plans uh that you see?
Jenn – Tattoos and piercings
Nicky – Okay okay
Jenn – You know
Nicky – Um like as in like will I allow this tattoo or piercing. Are you okay?
Jenn – At what age and how we’re going to discuss it as parents and curfews um and so on and so on. Um so often we’ll just throw in you know we’re going to try to have a discussion. If we cannot agree you know we’re going to see the accredited mediator within x amount of days right prior to commencing a legal proceeding. So really to keep parents you know on the things that matter to them
Nicky – Mm-hmm okay and then what are other things like you know I feel like you know when kids get a little bit older they get into the adolescence ,the teenage kind of stage right. They might be getting you boyfriends new girlfriends or whatever taking on different things. Are there usually things that you know that you have to put in parenting plans around say for example like um curfews and uh you know girlfriends and boyfriends or you know things like that?
Jenn – Rarely I’ve had I’ve not requested on those things very much you know maybe more general with um parenting decisions. Um we’ll have clauses of changes of circumstances um I’ll have clauses up but you know the parents are going to review the parenting plan um they’re going to check off amongst themselves what’s not working. You know what they think needs to be changed they’re going to have a conversation. If they can if they can’t agree then look at mediation you know prior to commencing any sort of legal proceeding. So there’s this acknowledgment I do have some clause about usually about um the parents acknowledge that you know things can change but they’re committed to their children and realizing that you know both mom and dad have you know important roles in their children’s lives and either one is going to say bad things about the other. Et cetera et cetera
Nicky – The bad mouth is a weird thing too because
Jenn – Yeah
Nicky – Yeah that’s that’s hard to enforce right because when you get frustrated or whatever it’s uh it’s really really tough and it’s all it’s also tough to prove. Um it’s it’s tough to prove that it’s it’s happening. Um how has Covid changed parenting plans? I know we talked you touched on a little bit and you know people, we we are living in a pandemic situation. The whole world is uh in this disarray and everybody has been dealing with Covid in a very very different way and then you add divorce to that which is a huge life change and Covid itself is a huge life change. Um the way that kids are interacting with each other, the way that they’re going to school everything you know everything is changing now um what are key elements of you know that you would put in for covid specifically?
Jenn – Okay so I may have something about abiding to what you know the government is saying at that particular time. Right um so you have to follow what’s been going on I might send people if they disagree first go you know go get some independent legal advice around this. Like what is the lawyer saying I mean this year what they were saying was um children should still see their other parent right. So parents could not withhold right. Another thing that I would see well it’s covered and my income’s been reduced so um I’m gonna make my child support a lot lower. Um no you better get some legal advice and you really can’t do that because only a judge can change child support. Right? So a lot of a lot with people wanting to reduce money and for the really high conflict people often a lot of well now I have this perfect excuse not to have to send my kids to this co-parent that I can’t stand.
Nicky – Yeah well child support is sort of calculated before spousal support
Jenn – Yes yes
Nicky – And you do find that a lot of parents are I guess living off of the child support and it’s it’s hard because say for example if their spousal support or their income isn’t enough.
Jenn – okay I see where you’re going like that I was gonna say
Nicky – Okay and so they’re using like essentially the child support to be able to supplement um you know regular life and living. Versus say for example having it be allotted specifically to that child and I don’t know if you come into this but I do where you know there’s plans to to have that child go in specific sports or this or that which is you know what that’s intended for but because of income reduction or like now like they’re paying essentially like they’re it’s they’re in a single income environment. It’s hard for them to really manage all those
Jenn – It works a little bit differently. Um there’s actually two kinds of child support. So child support you know that big umbrella term as we know it um takes a look at the residential schedule of the kids parents ages and incomes the number of children their ages and so on and we use the software. Um I use the lawyers use it called Divorce Mate and we just plug it all in yeah and it punches out this number right and that child support was really designed to cover just three things. Um I’ll refer to them as the minimum standard of care for children because what is it what are they food, shelter and clothing. Those are the three things so everything else and I’ve never met one kid that just needed food, shelter, and clothing. Everything else falls under what’s known as section 7 or extraordinary expenses. So that’s where you get things like daycare, post-secondary, medical that’s not covered under OHIP, um and on and on and on the extracurriculars, the summer camps, whatever may be, and those section 7 expenses are shared between parents um according to their income so it might be, 70/30 50/50 whatever it’s going to be. Support calculation should be recalculated yearly because it’s the rights of children, the child support. People’s incomes change right so I might have got a bonus a raise, I could have lost my job and taken another job you know that’s lower pay so it changes and because that number changes the allocation of the section 7 so the extraordinary expenses changes as well. Um but I’ll go back to the parenting plan when you think of extracurriculars for kids, so I like to cover these things in my parenting plans some I might have one parent who thinks that a child should be programmed every day right you know can never be too many activities and the other parent is going I can’t afford all this this is just a lot. So we may discuss how many activities per school term. I’ll then ask should there be a cap limit on that activity. Um how the person who signs the child up is going to be reimbursed, in what time frame and when I talk back to like a cap limit. It’s like if you send your child to let’s say uh karate and you go to a private karate school. You know that activity could be a $1000 or whatever maybe but if I send my child to the community center right maybe it’s $150. So I really think a good parenting plan is very clear and outlines like even what if this goes a dollar over what are we going to do? Right? So that we can always do our best to meet the children’s interests?
Nicky – Well Jennifer thank you so much for the information.
Jenn – Thank you for having me
Nicky – Yeah, it was such a pleasure. Do you have any you know last bits of advice for people who are thinking about having this created?
Jenn – Yes so there are lots of examples online um of what a parenting plan is. Obviously um it’s better to work with somebody because unless you’re extremely extremely comfortable because that person is trained and we’ll ask things that might not be in there and you know help you create something you know what’s what your kids are like, what their needs are, what’s going to work best for your family but before even dealing with the parenting plan and speaking to the professional do your research so that you can get an idea of things that could go in there. So that you could also come up with you know what you would like in your individual parenting plan.
Nicky – Well that’s that’s actually a great piece of advice and um thank you so much for joining us on the show today it was such a pleasure having you and I hope you guys enjoyed this episode make sure to like subscribe and hit that notification bell for more episodes to come. See you soon. Bye!