Working out parenting arrangements for children you share with your ex? When devising a parenting plan for your children, it’s important that you and your co-parent address as many details as possible. Parenting plans help parents understand their rules and responsibilities towards the children. The more that is spelt out unambiguously, the less chance there is that there will be any disagreements over interpretation later on. So what are the essential provisions every parenting plan should have, and what are some of the other provisions you might consider?
[Must-haves for your parenting plan…continued]
A parenting plan can include anything that parents need to agree on about their children, keeping their children’s best interests in mind at all times. It is not, however, a legally enforceable document and is different from a parenting order made by a court. Parents can however make a parenting plan legally enforceable by asking a court to make consent orders along the lines of the agreements recorded in the parenting plan.
First, let’s take a look at what every parenting plans should aim to include.
1. Parental responsibility for the children
The plan should discuss how parental responsibility will be shared. In other words, who makes which decisions for the children?
2. Living arrangements
The parenting plan will cover the time schedule for when the kids will be with you and when they will be with your ex, both for ordinary day-to-day life as well as for holidays and special occasions (ie school holidays, birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days, and so on). Every family is different so there is no one size fits all schedule pattern and parents will work out the custody arrangements that suit them and their children best. This means taking into account the children’s ages and needs, parental commitments and also practical issues like the distance between two homes.
You may wish to spell out certain details of living arrangements, for example sleeping arrangements for the children, such as if they must have their own bedrooms in each parent’s home. It may also be necessary to include how the children will get to and from school.
3. Changeovers and transportation
Parenting plans should cover transport arrangements and changeovers for children (ie pick-ups and drop-offs). You should include any backup plans you’ve agreed, and details such as specific car seat needs (which may vary if you live in different states).
4. What should happen if there are changes to the schedule
Spell out what should happen if a parent needs to vary the time schedule. For instance, if a parent misses time, should they get “makeup time”? How much notice is required to be given?
You might like to consider a “right of first refusal” provision (that is, there must be consideration of the other parent having the child before a third party carer is engaged).
5. Significant relationships
The parenting plan might also cover arrangements for spending time with relatives and other people who are important to the children.
If there are potential safety issues, such as the existence of a swimming pool or a parent’s use of alcohol, you can outline how these should be managed in your parenting plan. For instance, you may wish to insert a provision that neither parent will become intoxicated while in the child’s presence. You may also like to state that neither parent is to use physical discipline on the kids (or permit anyone else to do so). In this regard, you might like to spell out the preferred discipline methods.
7. Preventing people from having contact with your child
There may be concerns over the presence of certain people in a child’s life. It may be that you and your co-parent can agree on guidelines around third party visitation and even restricting or banning contact with specified individuals.
8. Guidelines for parent-child communication
You can specify arrangements for telephone or video communication with children when they are with the other parent. It’s a good idea to set boundaries around how the children communicate with the parent they are not with. Some parents also like to insert a provision along the lines that neither parent will question the children about the other parent’s household, their family or friends.
9. Guidelines for parent-to-parent communication
How frequently should you and your co-parent communicate? You might like to specify how often, by which means (eg email only or through a dedicated shared communication book), and how promptly a response should be received.
10. Access to children’s information
How will information about the child be shared? Can both parents have direct access to the child’s educational records or is one parent responsible for telling the other of the child’s grades and school activities/information? (Note: it’s important never to make this the duty of the child.) Are both parents listed with the school as persons to contact in the event of any emergencies involving the child? Can both parents have access to the child’s medical records?
11. Potential relocations
How will relocation disputes be handled? Should there be specified restrictions on a parent relocating the children outside a particular distance? Do you want to restrict the area where both parents must live until the child turns 18?
Other provisions to consider
Your parenting plan can be as detailed as necessary, and you should detail as many practical arrangements for the children’s care as you can. Again, the more that is spelt out, the more clarity and the less potential for disagreements with your co-parent. Here are some other provisions our clients like to include in parenting plans.
12. Travel plans
Clarity can be built into your parenting plan around future travel with the children. Which travel is permitted (interstate, overseas) and what is needed in terms of passports and other arrangements.
You may wish to include agreed-on plans for how kids will be introduced to new romantic partners.
Do you both need to agree on which activities your child will be enrolled in? Who can enrol your child in an activity? Can both parents attend the child’s school activities, sports, events etc.? Who will transport them to and from the activity and who will cover costs?
15. Medications and dietary needs
You might like to clarify guidelines for administering medication, views on vaccines, and any dietary requirements (for instance, if the child has allergies).
It can be hard to be on the same page about the use of technology, the internet and social media. Will you both enforce parental controls and screen time limits? It’s a good idea to anticipate the decisions that will need to be made (such as how old a child should be before they get a mobile phone, whether they’re allowed on TikTok, etc) and clarify these in the parenting plan.
17. Non-denigration clauses
Parenting plans often include non-denigration clauses. These are intended to help prevent parents putting their co-parent down in front of the children.
Your agreement needs to address issues that may come up in the future, providing solutions to potential scenarios. For instance, what will happen if parenting issues arise in the future? Will you go to mediation? Who will the mediator be, and how will they be paid (50/50?)? It’s important that the plan specifies how you will be sharing parental responsibility and how decision-making should happen on long term issues or as children’s needs change over time.
19. Naming a guardian
You may wish to include what should happen if both you and your co-parent die. In that case, a guardian would be appointed. You might like to specify your preference for this role.
20. Other clauses specific to your child’s wellbeing
As every family is different, your parenting plan will be uniquely tailored to your situation. There may well be other provisions you feel you need to include. A family lawyer will be able to help you work out what these should be and ensure the provisions are practical and in the children’s best interests.
Important to know about parenting plans
Always seek legal advice if you or your children are at risk of harm, if you disagree about the children’s best interests, if you’re thinking of signing a parenting plan or consent orders, and before you go to court to get a parenting order or to file a consent order with the court.
Although parenting plans do not have legal enforceability, they can still be taken into account by courts when making orders. Therefore, it’s important to still seek legal advice before signing a parenting plan.
For advice and assistance with a parenting plan or drafting a set of consent orders, please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Family Law on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note this blog is not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Family Law.
You can read more about parenting agreements (whether parenting plans or parenting consent orders) at Family Relationships Online.