When one goes through a divorce or relationship separation, one of the most important things to consider is a clear and secure parenting plan for your children. Even if proceedings are less than pleasant, children need to be supported and provided with routine, structure and stability, which is exactly what a parenting plan offers by formalising arrangements between you and your former spouse.
Here are some pointers to keep in mind when you are creating a parenting plan:
Firstly, what is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a written agreement signed by both parents that serves as a long-term strategy for protecting their children's needs and best interests. The plan covers a wide range of matters, such as how much time each parent will spend with the kids, establishing a schedule for the time each parent will spend time with the children or will communicate with the children when they are in the other parent’s care, the children’s schooling, healthcare and other general living arrangements. The idea behind a parenting plan is to provide children (and both parents) some stability after a divorce or relationship break-down, which can be a traumatic experience for them.
It is important to note that a parenting plan is different from a parenting order and a consent order, which are made by a Court.
What things should I consider?
When creating plans for children, it is important to make sure that the plan is practical and in the best interests of the children. The Family Law Act sets out some matters that should be considered and can help you to make arrangements for your children.
Some practical considerations include:
- Any existing arrangements and if either or both parents are working;
- how far you and your former spouse live from each other as this can affect the arrangement (e.g. in terms of travel costs or the amount of time the children will be required to travel to spend time with the other parent);
- family or work commitments that might be involved in the children's care;
- your children's own commitments (such as sport, social and school commitments) ;
- transportation (“pick-ups” and “drop-offs” otherwise known as “handovers” or “change-overs”);
- holidays and other special occasions;
- how to resolve any disagreements about the agreed arrangements outlined in the parenting plan; and
- your children's ages and developmental stages.
Can other people get involved in a parenting plan?
The law recognises that each family is different and that there might be people other than the parents that may play an integral role in a child’s life. These people typically include grandparents and other extended family members. Should it be in the children's best interests, grandparents and extended family can be involved in a parenting plan. However, in most circumstances both parents must be part of any agreement or order in relation to their children.
Is property included in a parenting plan?
Parenting plans only cover matters related to the care of children and do not include how property will be divided between parties to a relationship that has broken-down. Property settlements are best sorted with the help of a family lawyer.
Should I get legal advice?
You may consider obtaining legal advice if:
- You or your children may be at risk of harm;
- you disagree about what is in your children's best interests;
- you cannot agree with your former partner as to what arrangements should be put in place for your children;
- you are thinking about going to court to obtain a parenting order (or your former partner has already filed a Court application); or
- you are considering signing a proposed consent order.
There is no set, standard way of how a parenting plan should be written or organised, but the most important thing is to make it as clear as possible, so as to avoid confusion. There are different ways to create a parenting plan. You can work directly with your former partner or you can speak with a family lawyer.
Should you need assistance in creating a parenting plan, contact a family lawyer at Marino Lawyers. Marino Lawyers has experienced family lawyers in Cairns to give you the right advice and can help you to devise a plan with your children's best interests in mind.