At times of separation and divorce I often see very reasonable people morph into very difficult people. The task of putting together a fair and workable parenting plan is often clouded in by the animosity and resentment of folk who are still ‘red hot’ angry and not  thinking clearly because of the split.

Don’t get me wrong, most of these people truly want the best future for their children, but not necessarily for each other. Time is a great healer when it comes to this but parenting arrangements just can’t wait. They need to be done and done well so that kids have stability and routine in their lives. How do you get a great one worked out post the split when emotions are running hot?

Let me tell you something, you need to firstly calm down and not bother with any point scoring or game playing coming the ex. Traps are often set by the other party to stir the pot, paint you as a bad parent and create barriers. Ignore them and don’t play along. Keep focused on one thing only- a plan that is in the best interests of your child(ren). The more you play another parties’ games, the more you will feel the need to fight rather than plan. Wear them down with your cool clearheadedness.

Why? Because a well thought through and workable parenting plan is worth it’s weight in Kalgoorlie gold. Think of it as an easy to follow roadmap that will get you off of those confusing unmarked back roads of parenting after divorce or separation. A plan that tells you what your roles are is a necessity for success for you AND a real calmer for the kids. 

So what exactly is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is a voluntary agreement that covers the day to day responsibilities of each parent, the practical considerations of your kids’ daily life, as well as how the two of you will agree and consult on important long-term issues about the kids. The plan can be changed at any time as long as both parents agree.

Who can make them?

To be a parenting plan under the Family Law Act (the law relating to this), your plan must be made and signed by both parents. However, other persons, such as grandparents or step-parents, can be included in a parenting plan.
And on that point I want to tell how wonderful and supportive 99% of grandparents are to both parties and how much kids just adore them.

Make sure that you type up the agreement, date it and please ensure that you both sign it. It does not need to be witnessed. This is an agreement of trust between the two of you and is not legally enforceable. It’s like saying we don’t want to drag this through the courts because we have this plan which we both think is in the best interests of our kids.

Importantly, it must be made free from any threat, duress or coercion.

Not sure about an informal agreement?

If you’re not at a very high trust level with an informal agreements you can make an application to the court to have your plan sealed by the court. These are called ‘Parenting Orders by Consent’. It’s a fairly simple process and you won’t have to spend much (if any) time in court to get this finalised.

Once made, these orders are legally binding – they have the same effect as any other parenting order made by a court.

If parents can’t work out parenting arrangements it’s off to court you go and much of power you both have ends up under the scrutiny of the Judge’s discretion based on the evidence presented. Simply, it’s an awful process and everyone gets very stressed by courts. If your self representing it’s a very hard time indeed.

The court must consider the most recent parenting arrangement or parenting plan when making parenting orders in relation to the kids and the extent to which both parents have complied with their obligations in relation to the child, which may include the terms of a failed parenting plan.

Before I describe the benefits of having an effective parenting plan, let me describe what happens when you don’t have one, or have only a bare bones excuse for a plan. Your kids pay the price.

  • They end up missing out on time with one parent or the other
  • They miss out on time with their friends or participating in activities
  • They may not receive timely or adequate medical care
  • They may not receive important psychological care
  • They lose touch with grandparents and other extended family
  • They feel frustrated, sad, disappointed, and angry much of the time because their lives aren’t working very well
  • They resent their parents for getting divorced in the first place or for putting them in the middle of parental disagreements or power struggles

There are a number of reasons that parents end up with only a minimal or ineffective parenting plan. Chief among them is that parents are trying to think through how they are going to parent their children after divorce or separation during one of the most stressful, emotion-filled times of their lives. It is an overwhelming, daunting task for even the best of you guys and gals.

If that sounds like either of you, call in a mediator like Relationships Australia to help the two of you work things out. Lawyers can be helpful but they are very expensive so I encourage you to save money and start with a mediator.

The drafting of a parenting plan is important and can also be done relatively inexpensively. Here at The Legal Eagle, our legal drafters (who are qualified lawyers) have been helping write parenting plans and all sorts of court documents for self representing parents for about a third of the price lawyers charge. Drop us a line if you’re struggling with your family law matter, we’d be more than happy to help.

What can be included in a parenting plan?

Your plan will be unique to your circumstances. It should be practical, simple and as concrete as possible. A parenting plan can deal with any aspect of the care, welfare aspect of the care, welfare and development of a child.

The kinds of things that may be covered in a plan include:

♦ How the parents will share parental responsibility and consult about decisions (like which school the child will attend)
♥ Who the child will live with
♦ What time the child will spend with each parent
♥ How and where the changeovers are to occur
♦ What time the child will spend with other people, such as grandparents
♥ How the child will communicate with each parent or other people (eg by phone, email or letters)
♦ What arrangements need to be made for special days, such as birthdays and holidays
♥ What process can be used to change the plan or resolve any disagreements about the plan
♦ Any other issue about parental responsibility or the care, welfare and development of the child.
♥ What financial responsibilities will each parent have (outside of Child Support) for all the odds and ends expenses that pop up (School trips, uniforms, sports activities, special outings, miscellaneous health appointments etc)
♦ A timetable to evaluate and change the parenting plan if needed

Please note that any changes to the care arrangements for your children can affect child support, income support and family assistance payments. If you have a parenting plan and Child Support (CS) has a copy of it, CS can base your care levels in your child support assessment on the care levels outlined in the plan.

If your parenting plan specifies amounts for child support payments, CS cannot enforce it unless it is also a valid child support agreement and you or the other parent ask CS to accept it. However, parents who agree to less child support than the amount assessed under the child support formula can do so, as long as they get legal advice. Don’t forget he amount of Family Tax Benefit Part A you receive is based on CS’s formula assessment, not the child support agreement.

What Does ‘The Best Interests Of The Child’ Mean?

When you make decisions about your child their needs must come first. So naturally the most important thing for you to consider is what is best for your child. Children have the right to know both their parents and the right to be protected from harm.

However, the safety of your child(ren) must come first when considering your child’s best interest. These are important things to think about. If there is a history of one parent being aggressive or involved in any form of emotional, psychological or physical abuse, it will be difficult to get anything more than supervised time in a parenting plan. However cooperation and good behaviour during supervised visits  can open the way for unsupervised time.  If the kids are in their adolescent years you might want to think about any views they’re expressing about where they live and go to school. Relationships and time with extended family significant to them (such as their grandparents) also shows a real concern for your kids’ best interests.

Equal shared parental responsibility?

Except where there are issues of violence or abuse, the law presumes that it is in the best interest of a child for the parents to have equal shared parental responsibility. This does not mean that the child should spend equal time with each parent. Rather, equal shared parental responsibility means that both parents have an equal role in making decisions about major long-term issues that affect their children, such as schooling and health care. If you agree to share parental responsibility, you will need to consult with each other and make an effort to come to joint decisions about long-term issues. However, when the child is spending time with you, you will not usually need to consult on decisions about things like what the child eats or wears because these are not usually major long-term issues.

Benefits of a Well-Designed Parenting Plan

Earlier I said that having a well-designed plan is worth it’s weight in gold to parents. I mean that. When the day-to-day decisions of your life as a parent are planned for and running like clockwork, children and adults alike can breathe easy. When you know how you are going to handle special events, holidays, vacations, medical care etc. your brain and your blood pressure are going to thank you. Of course there will always be some event that hasn’t been planned for – just to keep you on your toes! After all, we are talking about human families here. But generally, your life and the lives of your children will go much more smoothly.

Here are just a few of the many benefits of having a good parenting plan:

  • Peace of mind for adults and children
  • Less stress
  • You put a safety net under your children so they don’t fall through the cracks
  • You are able to focus on parenting your children when they are with you rather than fighting with the other parent
  • You and your children have a schedule that provides emotional safety and routine
  • You are able to make plans for the times when you have your children with you and when they are with the other parent
  • You are able to avoid going back to court to solve parenting disputes

What Goes Into an Effective Plan?

Remember this about your parenting plan: one size does not fit all. The plan you and your child’s other parent develop will be as unique as each of the individuals in your divorced family. The ideal plan will take into consideration all of your family members’ needs – especially your children’s needs.
Try to see this experience through your children’s eyes. It will likely be quite different from yours.

Essential Elements

  • A clear, well defined schedule including provisions for holidays, vacations, school vacations etc.
  • Outline of who is responsible for making decisions and how those decisions are made if both parents are responsible.
  • A plan for who provides transportation to the other parent’s home and to extracurricular events etc.
  • A plan for financial responsibilities for each parent.
  • A plan for specific parenting responsibilities (e.g. who stays home when a child is sick; who goes on school field trips and other events; who helps with homework; who takes kids to medical and dental appointments etc.)
  • A forum for managing disagreements when they arise.
  • A system for sharing information.
  • A timetable to evaluate and change the parenting plan if needed.

Dr. Rbert Emery, an eminent American psychologist and expert in family relationships and children’s mental health believes that separating parents fall into three types. Sometimes they stay fixed in these types and sometimes they move forward because they know it will benefit the kids.
The types include:
Angry: Couples in angry divorces/separations feel rage and pain vividly, have trouble letting go of the relationship, and may be so enmeshed in conflict that emotionally they are as involved in each other’s lives as they were when together.

Distant: Where parents keep their marital conflict pretty well hidden from their children. Many parents with a distant divorce are extremely hurt and angry or frustrated and resentful, and the distance helps keep their rumbling volcanoes from erupting. Distant divorcers are child centered and competent parents. In fact it may be their commitment to their children that keeps them from going to war.

Cooperative: These parents are rare, at least in the beginning. Cooperative divorces/separations generally involve parents who understand children and empathise with their feelings, and who accept their responsibility as parents. They have done a good job of protecting children from marital conflict.

Now let’s apply these considerations to some sample parenting plans.

Sample Parenting Plan for Early School Age Children from 6-9 Years

Angry:

  • Every Friday from after school until 5:00 P.M. Saturday.
  • Every other weekend from 5:00 P.M. Friday until 4:00 P.M. Sunday. Alternate Mondays from 5:00 P.M. until 7:30 P.M. on the Monday following the weekend spent with the residential parent.

Distant:

  • Every Friday from after school until 5:00 P.M. Saturday. Every Monday evening from 4:30 P.M. until 7:30 P.M.
  • Every other weekend from 5:00 P.M. Thursday until 4:00 P.M. Sunday. Alternate Thursday evenings from 5:00 P.M. until 7:30 P.M.

Cooperative:

  • Every Thursday from 5:00 P.M. until 5:00 P.M. on Saturday.
  • Every Wednesday from 3:00 P.M. until 5:00 P.M. on Saturday with one parent; every Saturday at 5:00P.M. until 3:00 P.M. on Wednesday with the other parent.
  • Every Monday and Tuesday with one parent; every Wednesday and Thursday with the other parent. Alternate weekends from Friday through Sunday with each parent.

Clearly, the cooperative has more flow, flexibility and trust and although it may not be a starting point for you it’s something both parents should be aiming for.

Parenting plans are challenging and involve giving ground and respectful negotiation. They get done at a difficult time for everyone so utilise the assistance of a good mediator if your communication with each other is poor.

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Check out some of our FREE family law resources HERE

And if you’re struggling and need low cost help with your documents or the legal process contact me at:
mark@TheLegalEagle.com.au

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Written by The Legal Eagle