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ParentPlan: A Suggested New Solution?

There appears to be a comparatively new suggested solution to the continued problems of Private Law proceedings and Christopher Ferguson , member of Park Square Barrister’s renowned family team, is seeking to canvass the views of anyone who has had experience of it. It is called ParentPlan (with no gap between the Parent and the Plan) and comes with the phrase “Keeping Parents Connected.” Details of it were in the Spring edition of the legal magazine Family Affairs, in an article written by one of its designers.

It is described as “a new web based tool” and its purpose is “to assist parents to communicate effectively about their children.” It is understood to have been developed at least partly in line with the current trend towards Alternative Dispute Resolutions and with an eye to the new Child Arrangements Programme. As practitioners will appreciate, we now live under a system where the word “Review” is tantamount to blasphemy. Some would argue this is good; others have said that such an approach is too inflexible for the complex and varied situations that the family courts face.

ParentPlan is said to provide “a shared platform for parents to exchange information about their children and stay organised.”

 It gives access to some six functions – calendar, documents, media, contacts, pinboard and news. One of its developers, Michael Edwards, is very approachable and naturally keen to promote the awareness and use of ParentPlan, so I put it forward now with an open mind and without seeking to pass judgment on it.

Where the solution to a family’s problems may be seen to be based on better communication and co-operation, ParentPlan may appear to offer assistance. This will presumably be particularly so with parents who have some capacity for organisation and IT skills. I am not sure to what extent ParentPlan will be able to assist parents where one of them is gifted in this way, but the other is not. Nor may it seem to be suited to a situation where there is an element of harassment (especially social media based) alleged to have been involved.

I recently had a case where a child’s mother was feeling beleaguered by the father, who appeared to thrive on frequent and extensive e-mails, containing suggested rearrangements, criticisms and argument. Cafcass became involved and requested (as part of a comparatively new initiative) that each parent complete a 12 page parenting plan document regarding communication, child care, living arrangements, money, education and “other issues”. This caused the mother substantial stress and seemed to develop a position where the father was able to gain an advantage surely not intended by the designers of the scheme. I anticipate, however, that the developers of ParentPlan would point out that this was a different scheme.

Maybe we should be grateful that people have developed a system such as ParentPlan in the current atmosphere of family law. I was recently reminded that the government (the week before last’s government anyway) seeks to promote Alternative Dispute Resolutions. If you “google” (other search engines are available) ADR, you will not be surprised to see that the definition includes the phrase “a quicker and cheaper alternative to court”. Would it be cynical or “Luddite” to suggest that this may reflect the priorities of the present system and to ask to what extent this assists those seeking to apply the welfare checklist? I look forward to learning from the comments of others.

In the meantime, further information on ParentPlan can be obtained from Michael Edwards at medwards