If you divorce or if your de facto relationship ends, you need to take certain steps to make sure that the needs of your children are met. Using Australia’s administrative process to set child support is one step, but you also need to consider where the children will live, how much time they will spend with each parent, and how decisions about the children will be made.
One option is to let a Family Law Court make those decisions for you. Before the court enters a parenting order to resolve those issues, however, you will need to participate in family dispute resolution, using a process of mediation in an attempt to resolve parenting disputes. In ordinary circumstances, the court will only consider an application for a parenting order if dispute resolution fails.
An alternative that is usually better for the children is to create a parenting plan. That alternative is the best option for parents who are able to cooperate with each other after their relationship ends.
A parenting plan is a written agreement that parents make together. Cooperative parents often made the agreement when they realize their relationship is about to end or shortly after they separate. The agreement provides that parents will share the burden of raising children and allocates their responsibilities.
A parenting plan typically goes beyond the issues that are addressed in a parenting order. A parenting plan might consider:
Parents take a collaborative approach to the creation of parenting plans. They are motivated by the desire to do what is best for the children and they look for ways that each parent can contribute to that goal.
A key component of a parenting plan is deciding where the children will live and how much time they will spend with each parent. There is no formula to decide what is best for the children. Parents need to consider the amount of time they spend at work versus the quality time they can give their children. They must also take their children’s needs into account, including their need for stability, their school schedules, and their need to spend more time with friends as they get older.
A schedule that has the children living with one parent for half the year and with the other parent for half the year. This schedule might combine weekend visitations with the parent with whom the children are not living. A variation would have the children move back and forth between parents each week, although that might be unwise for younger children who crave stability.
A “bird nesting” schedule that keeps the children living in the same home while the parents swap residences with each other on a weekly or monthly basis.
The custody schedule that is best is the one that meets your children’s needs and, to the extent it is possible, the needs of both parents. Parents should maintain flexibility, should be willing to compromise, and should realize that a schedule that works well for young children may need to be amended as children grow older and become more involved in life away from home. Download a parenting plan booklet