A parenting plan or a consent order is essential to work effectively for your children with you and their father. It can be hard to set aside your emotions, however it is really important you do, to ensure the best for your children. The purpose of a plan is for long-term decisions for the care and welfare of your children. Knowing what should be in your plan can be confusing and the question is are you covering everything?
Having a plan setup in as much details as possible from the beginning will help you with a hopefully smooth co-parenting relationship. Its best practice to seek professional advice, however, if you don’t have the means to do so you need to know some things first.
For one; people often talk about parenting plans and parenting consent orders.
What is the difference?
A parenting plan is not legally enforceable, however it is a written agreement that is dated and signed by both parents and records their intentions at the time the agreement is signed. Although the parenting plan can be used as evidence in court, it does not have the same enforceability as a consent order and can be reviewed at any time.
A parenting plan is flexible and easy to change by agreement without going to court. However, if you cannot agree and end up going to court, the court will refer to your latest parenting plan as a guide when making parenting orders. So be mindful you are making the right decisions and agreements that are best for your children.
Similar to your parenting plan, however it is lodged with the court and is enforceable if either parent breaches a term of the order. It also gives the parents a sense of finality as once the Orders are made, unless the parents both agree to changing the arrangements. Orders can be difficult to change. If either parent breaches the Orders, serious consequences can apply to the parent who has breached. It is easier to enforce the terms of a consent order than a parenting plan.
Kasey Fox from Farrar Gesini Dunn, says it may be appropriate to use a parenting plan at first if you are amicable or when your children are younger, and you want more flexibility, but that Consent Orders are usually recommended for certainty, particularly in cases of conflict.
The parenting plan is more flexible and will suit some families. However if you have any issues with your ex-spouse it may be best to choose a legal enforceable consent order.
If you and your ex-spouse cannot come to an agreement there are many professionals who can help, such as a psychologist which can add value by helping parents explore their concerns and to provide psychological input/advice to help them make decisions about their children. This can be helpful as it can be a trying time and your emotions may influence the decision for your children and in some cases may not be the in the children’s best interest.
I was also advised, Relationships Australia offers a process known as Child Inclusive Mediation which can help parents determine their children’s wishes without the children being made to feel ‘in the middle’.
The court also has a process where an independent expert can be appointed to do an assessment of the family and provide a report to the court. This person is called a “family consultant” or a "single expert witness".
In any case it’s best to receive legal advice before making any final agreements
Below are some questions you need to ask yourself when preparing your plan.
How will the day-to-day and periodic costs be shared?
How will miscellaneous educational costs be met? (i.e uniforms, camp expenses)
Will the child support agency assessment be taken into account?
How will you both share health care costs?
How and by whom will the children be fed during the week?
How will the holidays be organised?
What about overseas holidays...How will these be planned?
What is the agreement with each parent?
Are there countries you both agree on?
If the holidays go over into the other parent’s time, will the agreement show makeup time?
How will you organise Christmas, Parent’s birthdays, Children’s birthdays and other important days in your family?
Will there be agreed days and times such as additional visits when it’s your birthday, and what happens when the children have a birthday?
What is the agreement for Christmas, how will it work?Alternate year or shared on the day?
If other important family occasions arise will you both agree to be flexible? And will there be a makeup time if it conflicts with your time?
How will the children communicate and also how will each parent communicate effectively with each other?
When your children are with their father, how will they communicate with you? Phone, text, skype, email.. And vice versa.
And what is the timeframe to return a response to the other parent?
And what is the best way to communicate with each other, on things such as education, sickness, sleepovers and their movements between each home including activities?
A popular tool recommended is to use is https://www.talkingparents.com/
What parenting decisions do you feel require joint consultation?
Will you both need to set up regular meetings to discuss parenting matters?
Do both parents need to discuss how you communicate about parenting matters?
Should both parents agree to include your children in these discussions?
Do both parents need to discuss how you both talk to the children about the other parent?
Should the plan be reviewed and if so, how will you go about it?
Introducing a new partner...
What rules will you both agree on when one has a new partner?
When is the best time to introduce the new partner to your children?
Will you meet the new partner before your children?
What will the living arrangements be and will this be discussed?
What involvement will the new partner have with the children?
Don’t rush the plan, ensure you are happy with it fully. Communication is key right now, voice your concerns and make co-parenting seamless.
You may also seek answers from Relationship Australia, a great booklet to download can be found here.
For further information, contact your local Family Lawyer.
Research source from Kasey Fox from Farrar Gesini and Dunn