When the family court issues are parenting orders or parenting plans, the foremost consideration is the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child is served when the child is encouraged to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents regardless of the state of the parents’ marital or domestic relationship.
A parenting order or parenting plan must also be issued to safeguard and protect the child from harm resulting from exposure to abuse or neglect.
When the family courts issue a parenting order or a parenting plan, the court must also consider the child’s wishes. The court has to allow the child, if he or she can, to express his views on the matter of how he wants to be parented and whom he wants to have primary responsibility for his care.
The court has to take into consideration the child’s relationship with both parents: for instance, when one parent has committed acts of family or domestic violence against the child, the court has to take into consideration whether the best interest of the child is served when the child maintains communication with the parent who has committed acts of domestic or family violence against the child.
The court must also consider the willingness and the ability of the parents to parent the child. Some parents who have a mental illness, or as handicapped, or those who suffer from substance abuse may not be willing or fit to actively fulfil their parental responsibility. The court must also consider parental attitudes toward their children. There are parents who are immature and cannot prioritise their children’s needs over their wants and desires. There are parents who are not capable of cultivating warm nurturing emotional attachments with their children. In these cases, the court has to consider whether it is in the best interest of the child to live with their grandparents or other relatives instead of their parents.
The court must also consider the parents’ capacity to provide for their children’s needs. If a parent is in custody and does not have an income with which to contribute to the child’s maintenance; or if a parent is jobless and cannot even support himself, the court must decide whether it is in the best interest of the child to be with the parent who is better able to provide for the child’s needs.
A parenting order or parenting plan is, therefore, a well-reasoned effort of the court to plan and provide for the child’s support, maintenance and need for parental guidance. All persons subject to a parenting order or parenting plan are required to comply with these.