By Gianna Huesch
Are you working out parenting arrangements for children you share with your ex? When devising a parenting agreement for your children, it’s important that you and your ex-partner address as many details as possible–the more that is spelt out unambiguously, the less chance there is that there will be disagreements over interpretation later on. 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. However, parents can 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. If you want your parenting agreement to be recognised by law as a parenting plan it must be developed in a particular way: it needs to be written down, dated and signed by both of you. If you already have a court order made on or after 1 July 2006 setting out parenting arrangements, you can both agree to change those arrangements by a parenting plan (unless the court order says that the order cannot be changed in this way). A parenting plan can be cancelled or changed at any time by a written agreement between the people who signed the original plan, so long as every person signs and dates the new agreement.
So what should you include in your parenting plan? The parenting plan will obviously 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 and for holidays and special occasions (ie school holidays, birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days, and so on).
The typical parenting plan covers a great deal more than simply custody arrangements, however. Plans usually cover transport arrangements for children (ie pick-ups and drop-offs), contact arrangements (telephone, email, post, Skype etc), and details of the children’s medical needs, sporting and social commitments. Here, it may help to ask yourself: Do you both need to agree on which activities your child will be enrolled in? Who can enroll your child in an activity? Can both parents attend the child’s school activities, sports, events etc.?
You should also give some thought to what should happen if someone needs to vary the parenting schedule? How much notice needs to be given? If one parent misses time with the kids, can that time be made up?
The parenting plan might also cover family arrangements with relatives and other people who are important to the children. It should also discuss how parental responsibility is to be shared and (if there are more than two people sharing this), how you will communicate with each other.
Your agreement needs to provide what will happen if parenting issues arise in the future. Do you go to mediation? Who will the mediator be, and how will they be paid (50/50?)?
Other questions you might wish to consider for your parenting plan include:
- Do you want to restrict the area where both parents must live until the child turns 18?
- 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? (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?
- Do you wish to insert a provision that neither party will become intoxicated while in the child’s presence?
- Do you wish to communicate about issues concerning the children through a communication book or dedicated email account?
- Do you wish to state that neither parent is to use physical discipline on the kids (or allow anyone else to do so)?
- Some parents 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.
These are just some of the issues that can be covered by a parenting plan. Your goal in making the parenting plan is to make all agreements as clear and simple as possible, to provide the most stability to the kids.
Always seek legal advice if you are 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.
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.