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Making Decisions and Spending Time with Children

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How are parenting plans decided?

Parents can try to agree on decision-making responsibility and parenting time by making a parenting plan. This plan may be called a parenting agreement or a separation agreement.

Parents who cannot agree on a parenting plan, must think about using alternative dispute resolution (ADR) or a family dispute resolution process to resolve their issues out of court if it's suitable for their situation. ADR might not be an option in situations of domestic abuse or if there is a power imbalance.

Parents can try to agree on a parenting plan:

  • on their own,
  • with the help of a lawyer, or
  • with the help of a family law professional who works in ADR, such as a mediator, arbitrator, or collaborative family lawyer.


If parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, they can go to court to get a parenting order. Judges decide decision-making responsibility and parenting time using a legal test called the best interests of the child.

Judges usually assume it is better for a child to have a relationship with both parents. This does not mean equal parenting time.

Some of the things judges look at are:

  • the child's physical, emotional, and psychological safety, security, and well-being
  • the relationship between each parent and the child
  • how long the child has lived in a stable situation
  • each parent's plan to care for and raise the child
  • the child's views and wishes, unless there's no way to find out what they are

Judges must also consider any family violence and its impact on a parent's ability to care for a child. Family violence can be physical, sexual, psychological, or financial abuse.


Sometimes a judge wants an independent professional's opinion about what is in the best interests of the child. This is called an assessment.

A judge may:

  • order the parents to get a private assessment, or
  • ask the Office of the Children's Lawyer to prepare a report.

The flowcharts in CLEO's Steps in a Family Law Case can help parents understand and follow the court process. Visit

Parents can stop the court process at any time by making an agreement.