By Gianna Huesch
Who needs a parenting plan? Anyone who is a parent…
When you’re divorced or separated and you’ve got kids, working out a schedule for how you are going to look after the kids is one of the most important elements of your parenting plan to determine. When and how often your kids will be spending time with both you and your co-parent is best nutted out in writing early on, to avoid later misunderstandings.
Every family is different, and there is no single custody schedule pattern that works for everyone. As co-parents, you two have to work out the scheduling pattern that best fits the needs of your family, and find a way to manage it.
When you have the good fortune to have a good relationship with your ex, and co-parent well, writing out a detailed parenting plan can seem unnecessary. However if, six months after you divorce, you and your ex start having problems around parenting arrangements, your parenting plan will end up being a crucial document. Relationships change, people remarry or move, or career needs change. There are plenty of things can affect how much each of you sees the kids. If you don’t sit down and map out a schedule now, dealing with changes in the future will be much more difficult.
Your parenting plan is the “default” mode for arrangements about seeing the kids. If you and your ex have a good relationship and co-parent well, you might each see the kids whenever you want. If you and your ex start not getting along, however, your parenting plan becomes critical, and each of you will need to see your kids according to the plan. You may already know that co-parenting with your ex is going to be difficult, in which case a highly detailed and specific parenting schedule will be critical. While going into a lot of detail about times and days may seem like a headache, it will save a lot of grief down the track.
Your custody arrangements form part of your parenting plan, an agreement separated parents make about how their kids will be cared for and supported. Parents work out how issues affecting their kids are going to be handled, and set it out in writing in a simple, concrete manner, which makes arrangements clear and predictable for everyone. As a starting point always, the best interests of your children are the most important thing for you to think about when you make a parenting plan.
Your parenting plan contains whatever you can both agree on about where your kids will live, arrangements for their day to day care, holidays, special occasions and so on. It typically includes who your children will live with and when, what time your children will spend with other people, such as grandparents , siblings, step-parents or other people important to your children. The document might include what activities each of you will do with your children (eg sports, homework, music) and any details of how you may both attend some important events with your children. It will specify how you will share parental responsibility and decision making about the big things (eg what school your children will go to, decisions about healthcare) and how you will come to agreement on the important, long-term issues as your children grow and their needs change, or either of the parent’s circumstances change. The plan might also detail how your children will keep in touch with the other parent and other people important to your children when they are with you, and any arrangements for special occasions such as birthdays, religious or cultural events, holidays, and graduation days. Some families include financial arrangements for the children.
A parenting plan can be changed at any time with the agreement of both parents. To be recognised by law as a Parenting Plan, the document must be developed in a particular way—written down, dated and signed by both parents. A parenting plan is not a legally enforceable agreement and is different from a parenting order made by a court. However, parenting plans do have some legal implications. You can get assistance with preparing a parenting plan, from organisations such as Relationships Australia. You may choose to go to family dispute resolution to help you to come to a workable agreement.
Other tips we have for managing your custody arrangements:
- Put the kids first. This means creating a parenting schedule that allows them to spend enough time with both of you so they can have a meaningful relationship with each parent. This is not about keeping score of who gets five minutes more with the children.
- Think logistically. How are you going to manage your kids’ “stuff” as they go back and forth between parents’ houses? You are not going to want to send them to school with a suitcase. Work out with your ex how you are going to deal with their clothes, toys and other “stuff” that they need to bring between houses. Be realistic about holidays and traditions. What has worked in the past may no longer work and new traditions will likely need to be made.
- When working out your parenting arrangements, be realistic about your own schedule and commitments.
- Work out a custody arrangement that suits your kids’ ages, activities and needs. You’ll need to take the following into account: your kids personalities, your family schedule, the career and social commitments of each parent, any academic and extracurricular activities your children are committed to, and your child-care arrangements and the distance between the parents’ homes.
- Work it out on a calendar. It may work in theory, but until it is translated into actual dates on a calendar, you may not see any scheduling problems. Using a calendar will also remind you of lesser holidays that you may otherwise forget. These days, you aren’t limited to a paper calendar; there are plenty of electronic calendar tools available online which allow you to completely customise your calendar for your family.
- From time to time, review arrangements and adjust if necessary. How is it working for the kids as they grow and circumstances change?
Creating a parenting plan will take time and effort but is crucial and will pay off in the long run. A stable parenting plan allows parents and children to avoid confusion about arrangements and helps reduce conflict, helps kids adjust to their new circumstances and makes the whole family feel more secure about the situation.
Do you need assistance with parenting arrangements, whether you need help with a parenting plan or drafting a set of consent orders? Please contact Cristina Huesch, Sharla Stevens or Angela Li here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400 – your first half-hour conference is free and without obligation