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What is a Parenting Plan?

Kelly Sikkema Giijfnulwxk Unsplash

After the breakdown of a family unit, one of the most important considerations will involve the ongoing care arrangements for the child or children. Amongst the many stressors of separation, having agreed terms and a clearly defined structure of parental responsibilities can be of great use.  

There are a few different types of parental agreements; oral agreements, written parenting plans as well as a formal Court order, called consent orders. Unlike consent orders, creating a written parenting plan does not require parties to attend Court, often making them cost efficient. This, however, also means that parenting plans are not legally binding documents. If one party does not adhere to the terms of a Parenting Plan, it cannot be enforced. A Parenting Plan is best described as a written record of the parents’ agreement for the child or children.  

A parenting plan must be:- 

  • Written; 
  • Signed by both parents; and,  
  • Dated.  

What should a Parenting Plan include? 

Just like there is no standard approach to care arrangements, there is no right or wrong approach to Parenting Plans. You should consider discussing matters which are important to you and that you consider to be in the child or children’s best interests.  

Often, Parenting Plans include information such as:-  

  • Where the children will live; 
  • How much time they will spend time with the other parent; 
  • How the children will communicate with each parent and extended family members; 
  • What will happen during school holidays;
  • Will there be separate arrangements for special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day; and
  • How handovers will be conducted.  

If you or the other parent feels strongly about a particular issue, you may wish to discuss this, and if agreed, include it in the Parenting Plan. Some examples could include the use of mobile phones and internet usage, vaccinations, curfews, parent-to-parent communication, disciplinary action and dietary requirements.  

When making decisions about the inclusions of a parenting plan, parents should consider the child’s best interests first. The child’s age should also be thought of in devising the plan; are the parents going to need to adjust the arrangements once the child reaches a certain age, and should these adjustments be added into the current plan too? Parents should ponder the possibility of changes being made to the plan and decide how this can be done. For this reason, including review dates in the Parenting Plan can be useful. Likewise, if there is an agreement about how disputes should be resolved, this could also be captured in the parenting plan.  

What if you can’t reach an agreement? 

If you are unable to reach an agreement independently with your former partner, or you find it difficult to discuss the arrangements in general, Family Dispute Resolution (‘FDR’) mediation services can be a useful tool to help separated parents have a conversation.  

If you would like some assistance in formulating a parenting plan or need some advice, please do not hesitate to contact us. 

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