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What Is A Parenting Plan And Why Is It Essential?

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There are different ways to organise your parental arrangements. While a legally binding consent order is often recommended, an informal parenting plan can suffice. Even if you decide to formalise your agreement with the Court, beginning with a parenting plan is vital.

  • What is a parenting plan?
  • What does a parenting plan cover?
  • What are the best practices when writing a parenting plan?
  • How do parenting plans differ from consent orders?
  • What do you do if one party breaches a parenting plan?

What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan in Australian family law is a written agreement that sets out the parenting arrangements for children. It is not legally enforceable but can be used as evidence of a parent’s intentions if there are later disputes.

It’s important to note that while a parenting plan is a written parenting agreement, it is different from a parenting order, which is made by a court and is legally enforceable. Parents are encouraged to seek legal advice when drafting a parenting plan. This will ensure the plan meets their family’s needs and satisfies their parental responsibility.

SFL - what is a parenting plan

What does a parenting plan cover?

Here’s a broad outline of what a parental plan typically covers.

Introduction

  • Names of the parents and children involved.
  • Date of the agreement.

Decision-making

  • Details about who will make decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and welfare.
  • How parents will communicate and consult each other about major decisions.

Living Arrangements

  • Where the child will live.
  • How much time the child will spend with each parent.
  • Details about weekends, holidays, and special occasions.

Communication

  • How the child will communicate with the parent they are not living with.
  • Guidelines for respectful communication between parents.

Changeover Arrangements

  • Details about how and where the child will be picked up and dropped off.
  • Any conditions or requirements for changeovers.

Financial Support

  • Whether you will organise a child support assessment.
  • How other expenses (like school fees or medical bills) will be shared.

Travel and Relocation

  • Provisions for interstate or overseas travel.
  • Requirements for notifying the other parent about travel plans or relocation intentions.

Dispute Resolution

  • Steps to be taken if there is a disagreement about the parenting plan.
  • Agreement to see a family dispute resolution practitioner if needed.

Review and Changes

  • Conditions under which the plan can be reviewed or changed.
  • How often reviews will take place.

Other Specific Issues

  • Any other issues specific to the family, such as religious upbringing, cultural practices, or extended family involvement.

Signatures

  • Both parents sign the plan to indicate their agreement.

SFL - Couple talking about parenting plan (what is parenting plan)

What are the best practices when writing a parenting plan?

Creating an effective parenting plan requires careful consideration, open communication, and a focus on the child’s best interests. Here are some best practices parties should follow when developing a parental plan.

  1. Prioritise the child’s best interests. Always centre the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological well-being when making decisions.
  2. Open and honest communication. Ensure both parties communicate openly about their expectations, concerns, and wishes for the child.
  3. Be specific. Clearly outline details like pick-up and drop-off times, holiday schedules, and communication methods to avoid misunderstandings.
  4. Flexibility. While it’s essential to be specific, include some flexibility to accommodate unexpected changes or events.
  5. Decision-making. Clearly define how significant decisions (like education, health care, and religious upbringing) will be made. Decide if they’ll be joint or if one parent will have the final say.
  6. Dispute resolution. Include a process for resolving disagreements, such as mediation or counselling, to avoid escalating conflicts.
  7. Regular reviews. Set intervals to review and, if necessary, revise the plan to accommodate the child’s changing needs as they grow.
  8. Consider the child’s age and needs. A teenager’s needs will differ from a toddler’s. Ensure the plan is age-appropriate and considers the child’s needs and preferences.
  9. Incorporate input. If appropriate and safe, consider getting input from the child. Older children, especially, may have preferences about their living arrangements.
  10. Seek professional guidance. Consider consulting with professionals like family therapists, counsellors, or legal professionals to ensure the plan is comprehensive and in the child’s best interests.
  11. Stay updated. As circumstances change (e.g., relocation, new job, health issues), be prepared to revisit and adjust the plan accordingly.
  12. Consider external factors. Consider the child’s school schedule, extracurricular activities, and social commitments when drafting the plan.
  13. Document Everything. Keep a written record of the agreed-upon plan and any subsequent changes. This can be useful for clarity and in case of disputes.
  14. Stay child-centred. Remember, the parenting plan is for the child’s benefit. Avoid letting personal conflicts or emotions dictate the terms.

Child kissing and hugging his mother

How do parenting plans differ from consent orders?

There are two primary ways to organise parenting arrangements. These are parenting plans and consent orders. But what sets them apart? Here are some of their crucial differences.

Nature of the agreement. Parental plans represent informal agreements between parents. A parenting consent order is a legally enforceable agreement. This means the authority of the Family Court backs them.

Modification. The fluid nature of parental plans allows for easy alterations, needing only mutual agreement. Consent orders, however, are more rigid. Any desired changes require court intervention and approval.

Disputes. When disagreements arise, parental plans testify to the parents’ original intentions. Consent orders, given their legal standing, carry more weight. A breach can lead to significant legal consequences.

Duration and flexibility. Parenting plans are adaptable, with durations and terms that can evolve with changing circumstances. Consent orders, in comparison, have predetermined durations or conditions under which changes can occur.

Formality. The informality of parenting plans offers ease and a personal touch. Consent orders, bound by legal procedures and standards, are more formal and structured.

lawyer working with client discussing about binding financial agreement

What do you do if one party breaches a parenting plan?

If one parent breaches a parenting plan in Australia, it can be distressing and challenging since the plan isn’t legally enforceable. However, there are several options available to address the situation:

  1. Open communication. Initially, try discussing the issue with the other parent. Misunderstandings can sometimes be resolved through open dialogue.
  2. Mediation. If direct communication doesn’t resolve the issue, consider mediation. A neutral third party can help facilitate a conversation to reach an agreement.
  3. Family Dispute Resolution (FDR). Before applying to a court for parenting orders, parents must usually attend FDR. It’s a type of mediation designed to help parents resolve disputes.
  4. Seek legal advice. Consult with a family lawyer to understand your rights and potential courses of action.
  5. Revisit the parenting plan. Consider revising the parenting plan to address any ambiguities or issues that led to the breach.
  6. Apply for parenting orders. If breaches continue or there are concerns about the child’s welfare, you can apply to the Court for parenting orders. These orders are legally enforceable.
  7. Use the parenting plan as evidence. If you decide to go to Court, the parenting plan can show the Court what was previously agreed upon.
  8. Report serious breaches. If the breach involves child abuse or other family violence, contact the police immediately.

Conclusion

Parenting plans are a flexible option for parents looking to settle their parenting arrangements. There are various things to consider when preparing a plan to ensure it covers every element needed for effective co-parenting.

It’s vital to understand the difference between a parenting plan and consent orders and be able to handle breaches effectively.

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Luke Shanahan Family Law

Luke Shanahan

Principal

Luke Shanahan is the Principal Solicitor of Shanahan Family Law. Luke has been practising family law since 2008 and started his firm in 2014. He has three beautiful daughters and a supportive, gorgeous wife. In his spare time, Luke enjoys playing tennis and trips to the beach with family and friends. 

Luke is dedicated to providing the best possible legal representation for his clients. His experience and passion for family law set him apart from other solicitors. You only have to read their 5-star reviews to understand that.

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