What is a parenting plan?
As the name suggests, a parenting plan is simply a written agreement between separated parents concerning the parenting of their children. There are no special court forms or templates needed.
The general requirements of a parenting plan are that the plan is
- in writing;
- made between the parents of a child;
- signed and dated by each parent; and
- the agreement is made free from threats, pressure or intimidation by either party.
What is included in the plan?
Parenting plans are voluntary in nature. The contents of a plan are hence determined by what the parents agree to in their own particular circumstances.
Some common inclusions include
- where the children will live;
- how and when the children spend time and communicate with each parent;
- how and when the children spend time and communicate with other important people (i.e. grandparents);
- what school the children will attend;
- how expenses are to be divided; and
- what the process is for amending or changing the parenting plan in future.
How do I make a parenting plan?
As there is no required format for a parenting plan it is up to the parties to decide how they wish to draft the agreement. Parties can either engage with a solicitor to prepare the plan, or otherwise write it themselves.
- Solicitor drafted parenting plan
Family law solicitors are understandably equipped to draft a parenting plan on behalf of the parties. A solicitor is well versed in the usual inclusions most fitting for children of particular ages.
The more detailed the plan, the less room there is for issues or disputes to arise due to grey areas which have not been pre-empted or planned for by the parties.
Additionally, having a well drafted plan prepared by solicitors will hasten the court application process, should it be required.
- Self drafted parenting plan
Once the contents of a parenting plan have been agreed by the parties, it is simply a matter of documenting the agreed terms in a clear way. Each issue should be a separate numbered paragraph.
Is a parenting plan legally enforceable?
The short answer is no. A parenting plan is not a court order and consequently is not legally enforceable. If one party “breaches” the plan by not complying with what was agreed, the other party does not a legal recourse.
However, parenting plans are usually influential in any future court proceedings. The court will likely look to what arrangements were established by the parenting plan and determine whether it is necessary to change them. They may also consider whether, in breaching the parenting plan, that parent acted in a way which was inconsistent with the child’s best interests.
At the very least a parenting plan indicates an agreement between both parents at a point in time. This documentation can be helpful to draw upon should there be disagreement later including in legal proceedings.
To use a parenting plan or not?
- You and your ex-partner are amicable and agree on arrangements:
In this case, a parenting plan allows for greater flexibility and active involvement by both parents in decisions concerning the children. Legal advice is not necessarily required to enter into a parenting plan, eliminating legal fees which would otherwise be involved.
This flexibility of a parenting plan allows parties to change the dates and times of shared care arrangements when necessary.
- There are very young children:
In circumstances where a child or children of the parties are extremely young, issues such as future shared care arrangement, education and extra-curricular activities may be years away from being relevant. Parties may be uncomfortable or unable to agree on issues they are yet to experience or need to think about.
A parenting plan can be amended easily and with little to no costs and will usually include a term which details the process of amending the plan. This allows parents of young children to make changes to the plan when they are faced with new issues, as the children grow up.
NOT ALWAYS USEFUL, IF:
- You and your ex-partner are hostile and in constant disagreement:
As previously mentioned, there are no legal consequences that occur from the breach of a parenting plan.
A parenting plan will likely fail for parties who have a hostile relationship and are in constant and stubborn disagreement over issues pertaining to the children. Parties in this situation will likely be advised to ensure any agreement reached is in the form of a court order, so as to mitigate any breaches, provide more certainty and an easier path for recovery of children when withheld and allow for legal recourse and penalties if breaches continue occur.
TO KEEP IN MIND:
It is important to remember that any parenting arrangement should be both constructed and implemented in a way which advocates the best interests of the children.
Whether an agreement be informal and flexible, or otherwise enforceable and detailed in court orders, it should always aim to provide some certainty and ease to children of separated parents.
If you require any further information on how to document your parenting arrangements in any form, the lawyers at Carr & Co can assist. Contact us to arrange an appointment.