There are different ways to organise the care of your children after a divorce. You may apply to the Court for court orders or arrange things based on your circumstances. If you and your former spouse are on civil terms, you may opt for a private written agreement detailing your parental responsibility.
Consent order or parental plan?
Parenting plans are often the first step to getting a consent order, but this isn’t always true. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to organising the care of children. Whether you want to involve the Court or not depends on your situation.
The primary benefit consent orders provide is that it’s a legally enforceable agreement. When the Court grants an order, both parties must adhere to the terms of that order. If there is a breach of the order, the Court may compel the offending party to rectify the issue or face legal consequences.
Under the Family Law Act, the Family Court must believe that your proposed consent orders are in the child’s best interests. You won’t receive a court order if you don’t meet this requirement. Consent orders are also difficult to alter or withdraw. The Court will only change or remove consent orders under exceptional circumstances. This is where parenting plans may be more appealing.
When to choose a parenting plan
While parenting plans don’t make parental arrangements legally binding, like consent orders, they have some advantages. Parenting plans are flexible and don’t need to adhere to a strict court-approved form. You can lay out a parental plan in any way you like and include as much or as little as you deem necessary.
Co-parents may find a parenting plan’s flexibility helpful if they need to change their arrangements quickly. In this case, a parenting plan is more of a guide than a stringent set of rules and obligations.
Parenting plans are best for co-parents who separated amicably. A parenting order is best when there are negative feelings between divorced couples. Parenting orders allow the Court to sort out arrangements on behalf of co-parents.
Co-parents should also be able to communicate clearly. While a flexible approach can be beneficial, it may also cause instability in your child’s life. A clear plan dictating how you care for your child’s needs is essential when living apart. Constantly changing your parenting arrangements can lead to a lot of stress for your child. This stress can affect many aspects of their life, including health and educational outcomes.
By communicating openly, you can ensure that you implement any change to your parenting plan in a considered way.
Creating a parenting plan
As we mentioned, parenting plans don’t have a set structure. If you create a parenting plan, you should have it in writing and ensure both parents sign it.
Plans should cover certain essential elements of your child’s care.
Who will the child live with? Usually, one parent will take on the primary care role while the other will spend a certain level of time with the child. Your plan should specify how and when that time should occur. The child’s time with the other parent should allow them to maintain a meaningful relationship.
How will you make significant decisions regarding your child? Things to consider here include the following:
- How you will handle their education;
- How will you share the costs of child-raising;
- What extra-curricular activities will they engage in;
- How will you address any health-related concerns;
- How you will observe any religious obligations.
The parental plan should clarify how both parents will influence the child’s necessities and the values they grow up with.
It would be best to consider how you approach special occasions such as birthdays, Christmas, Easter, etc. Where will your child spend these occasions? You could stipulate that each parent will spend time with the child on alternating years during those periods.
You may find it helpful to include the role of other family members. For example, will the child’s grandparents play a significant part in their upbringing? How will you manage their involvement?
Think about how you will handle emergencies. This factor is crucial if your child has a health condition. Make a plan that clarifies each parent’s responsibilities during an urgent situation.
Let’s look at a couple of scenarios to see how a parenting plan may be beneficial.
Case study one
Tim and Anna live on the Gold Coast and recently separated. They are co-parenting their four-year-old son, Alex, on good terms. Anna is Alex’s primary carer.
Alex is reaching school age, and they must decide what school he should attend. They agreed to enroll him in a private school. Tim would also like Alex to participate in sports. Anna is reluctant to consent due to fears over Alex’s safety.
Tim and Anna decide to create a parenting plan. They agree that Tim will cover three-quarters of Alex’s school fees. They agree that Alex will take up sports, but only non-contact for now.
They seek free legal advice from the Gold Coast Community Legal Centre to ensure their plan is sufficient for their needs.
Leaving room to negotiate the type of sports Alex will participate in can make a helpful parenting plan for Tim and Anna.
Case study two
Alice and Simon are divorced and living in Maroochydore. They co-parent 10-year-old Sarah, who has type one diabetes. Sarah lives with Simon, who runs a dental practice. Simon’s parents babysit Sarah after school until Simon finishes work.
Simon and Alice write a parenting plan covering the protocols around Sarah’s healthcare. The plan specifies that Simon’s parents will have insulin on-hand while Sarah is in their care. The plan also details diabetic seizure warning signs and relevant emergency phone numbers.
Simon and Alice develop their plan with input from their family doctor and legal advice from the Maroochydore Legal Aid office.
Get legal advice
You should seek legal advice when arranging your child’s care with a parental plan. Community resources such as Legal Aid are very helpful in ensuring that your parental plan is sound.
Help is also available from family law experts like the team at Shanahan Family Law. Our expertise extends across diverse situations, including child recovery order issues. We prioritise crafting advice tailored specifically to your unique circumstances and needs.
Contact us today for an initial free discovery call.
The above information is intended to be general advice only and is not a substitute for personalised advice. Because it does not consider your individual circumstances, it is not intended to be relied upon, and any loss or damage arising from any such reliance is disclaimed. Any financial or legal decisions should only occur after you have received tailored advice from a legal or financial professional.