what is a parenting plan?
many children worry about what will happen to them when their parents split up, and it can be a big relief to them if the arrangements become clear and predictable.
Whether you have just decided to separate or have been separated for some time, you and the other parent obviously need to think about and agree on arrangements about the children.
Parenting arrangements guideline (PDF down load)
Whatever you agree on about parenting arrangements doesn’t have to be written down, but if you do write it down, a parenting plan is a good way to do it. Agreements can be made in various ways, for example, face-to-face, by telephone or by email.
A Parenting Plan is an agreement that separated parents make about how their children will be cared for and supported. Preparing one yourselves means that you get to make your own decisions that suit your own circumstances. Agreeing about how things that affect your children are going to be organised, as straightforwardly as possible, will be good for your children and is likely to save arguments or misunderstandings along the way.
The best interests of your children are the most important thing for you to think about when you make an agreement.
A parenting plan can include anything that parents need to agree on about their children. The plan can be changed at any time with the agreement of both parents.
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 are both likely to be able to agree on most things...
Making a parenting plan will often mean sitting down together and writing down whatever you can both agree on about where your children will live, the arrangements for their day to day care, holidays, special occasions and so on.
If it’s not likely that you will be able to agree on what will work best for your children
If you think it will be too hard for you or the other parent to keep the focus on your children, or that arguments could get too heated (and definitely if you feel unsafe) you can ask others to help you. Co-operating in making a workable parenting plan has good outcomes for children and you are strongly encouraged not to see this process as an opportunity to continue old arguments with the other parent.
Because a parenting plan is worked out and agreed by both of you, agreeing in this way means you have control over the process and you won’t need to fight things out in court. Going to court can be a tense, traumatic, expensive, long term experience and it can be hard to get off the roundabout. In some situations court involvement is absolutely necessary, but parents who have been through the system say to avoid it if you can.
Coming to a workable agreement without going to court saves parents a lot of money, time and distress and, more importantly, it is better for your children. Research clearly shows that it’s not the separation of their parents that harms children the most; it’s the ongoing arguments and negativity between the parents, and the anxiety that children feel when their parents can’t co-operate about things that affect their daily lives.
When children know that their parents have talked about what’s best for them, and know that a plan is written down, they are likely to feel cared for and safer. If your children can predict the shape of their lives and know that you will keep the adult issues between adults, they will be able to manage the stresses and fears of the separation much better.
What if it’s not working or something changes?
A parenting plan can be cancelled or changed at any time by making a new written, dated and signed agreement between the people who signed the original plan.
A parenting plan is not a legally enforceable agreement and is different from a parenting order, which is made by a court. However, parenting plans do have some legal implications.
No you don’t have to make a parenting plan. The Family Law Act strongly encourages parents to reach an agreement about their children. A parenting plan is one way of writing down that agreement.
Many separated parents are able to work out arrangements between themselves. Others find it better to get some help to reach agreement and/or to put the agreement into a parenting plan.
You may choose to go to family dispute resolution to help you to come to a workable agreement. Often these services will see each of the parents separately first, before both of you and the professional person sit down to work out parenting arrangements together. Or it may be that they can help you reach agreement without you having to be in the same room with the other parent if that’s what you need.
Professionals who work as registered family dispute resolution practitioners can help you discuss possible arrangements for your children and can help you reach an agreement with the other parent.
If you have concerns for your own safety or the children’s safety, you will still need to make some arrangements about the care of the children but…
The law says that you do not have to try to reach agreement with the other parent before you go to court. If you don’t want to go to court, there may still be other safe ways to make arrangements about the children and to deal with your disputes.
There are services which can help you in ways that mean you don’t have to sit down in the same room with the other parent in order to come to an agreement about important issues.
If you do go to court you need to tell the court when you contact them (and any other service you get information and support from) that you have concerns about safety. There may be some safe ways in which your children can still keep up a relationship with the other parent.
They can still spend time with the other parent under supervision; eg with another relative or at a children’s contact service. Children’s contact services are places where your children can spend supervised time with their other parent or where your children can be dropped off and picked up before and after seeing the other parent.
If you are worried about your own safety, you can also use a children’s contact service to drop off and pick up your children and you don’t have to see the other parent at all.
Your parenting plan can deal with anything relevant to the care, wellbeing and development of your children. The agreements you make should focus on the best options for your children rather than just what the adults do or don’t want to happen.
A parenting plan works best for families when it is practical, simple and as concrete as possible.
All children’s needs are different. If you have more than one child you may want to make different arrangements for each of the children. You could make a plan that includes these differences, or you could make a separate parenting plan for each child.
The kinds of issues that you are likely to need to cover in a parenting plan include:
- who your children will live with
- what time your children will
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