Queen's Law professor leads work to update parenting plan resources

Materials will be revised to align with Divorce Act, Children's Law Reform Act amendments

Queen's Law professor leads work to update parenting plan resources
Nick Bala’s teaching and research topics include children’s and family law. | Credit: Queen’s Law

Queen’s University Faculty of Law professor Nicholas Bala has been appointed to chair the 13-member task force undertaking a revision of the Parenting Plan Guide and the Parenting Plan Template of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts Ontario (AFCC-Ontario).

Bala and his multidisciplinary research team will revise the materials to be consistent with amendments to the Divorce Act, RSC 1985, c 3 (2nd Supp), and to the Children's Law Reform Act, RSO 1990, c C.12, which came into force earlier this year.

Bala, who teaches and researches in the areas of children’s law and family law, received a $24,100 Response Programs Grant from the Law Foundation of Ontario, which will support the task force’s work, such as the translation of the materials into French. It will also fund research by Bala and by Dr. Rachel Birnbaum, a social work professor at King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario, on the use of parenting plans and the AFCC-Ontario materials.

“We are surveying professionals and parents about their experiences with the materials, as well as continuing to read court decisions that cite them,” Bala said in a news release from Queen’s Law.

The parenting plan materials aim to offer guidelines for parents and legal professionals making post-separation arrangements for the care of children and to address issues relating to parenting time schedules and decision-making.

In 2018, Bala proposed the idea of developing these materials to the board of the AFCC-Ontario and agreed to chair the task force of professionals and social science scholars that went on to prepare the first version of the Parenting Plan Guide and Parenting Plan Template, which were posted on AFCC-Ontario’s website in January 2020.

The parenting plan materials have since received positive feedback from parents, lawyers, mediators, counsellors and judges and have been cited by a number of decisions of Ontario courts. The materials tackle, among other issues, the developmentally appropriate related factors to be considered when making a parenting time schedule.

“Newborns are very different from teenagers, and parenting plans need to be made, and varied, to take account of individual, age-related factors,” Bala explained in the news release.

The materials also cover the use of social media by parents and children, including whether parents should post pictures of their former partner with their children and whether children should be allowed to use social media. Parents should reach a mutually agreeable solution that considers their children’s interests, Bala said.

“If they cannot resolve issues, there should be a dispute-resolution mechanism, if at all possible outside the court process,” Bala added in the news release.

Bala and Birnbaum have also received a Response Programs Grant for over $29,000 for their research project regarding child inclusive mediation. Bala noted in the news release that the Parenting Plan Guide recognizes the need to involve children when making post-separation parenting plans in a way that takes into account their age, their vulnerabilities and the level of parental conflict.

“Child inclusive mediation is one way to include children in making plans,” Bala said.

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