Parenting plans really can make a big difference. Separating from a partner is a stressful experience for everyone involved, particularly for any child or children of the relationship. A Parenting Plan is a way for the mother and father to agree and formalise how the care of the children will be apportioned, thus providing the children with a stable parenting structure despite the parents’ separation.
For help and advice on parenting plans go to Family Lawyers Adelaide
What is a Parenting Plan?
A Parenting Plan is a written, signed and dated agreement between the parents that stipulates how the parenting arrangements of the child/children are going to be allocated and can take into consideration any aspect of parental responsibility. The plan is determined by agreement between the parents themselves, which means going to court is not necessary and deals with child welfare and child maintenance.
If the parties are concerned that they can’t put together a plan without argument, then a mediator from (for example) the Family Dispute Mediation Service via Relationships Australia can help to facilitate a sensible and conciliatory solution.
It is important to note that a Parenting Plan is different to a Parenting Order; where an Order is made by the Court, a Parenting Plan is an agreement made between the mother and father without the involvement of the court.
Because of this, a parenting plan is not a legally enforceable agreement but rather an indication of the parents’ intentions should the care of the children ever be disputed.
What goes in a Parenting Plan?
A Parenting Plan is composed of anything that is relevant to the care of the child, for example in regards to their day-to-day care arrangements and how significant decisions are to be made, as well as the overall responsibilities of each parent. The plan may also include other parties and their involvement with the children, for example a step-parent or grandparent.
A Parenting Plan may include the following areas:
- Who the children will live with and how the living arrangements are determined;
- How much time will be spent with each parent;
- How much time will be spent with any other party (e.g. grandparent);
- Communication arrangements between the children and each party;
- How the child will spend their school holiday periods, birthdays, Easter and Christmas;
- How important decisions regarding the children will be made and what constitutes ‘important decisions’ (e.g. deciding which school to send them to and whether they will have private health care);
- How the financial requirements of the child will be satisfied;
- Involvement with the child’s activities (e.g. sporting commitments);
- Maintenance of the children (as opposed to child support pursuant to the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989;
- If a parent or both parents want to alter the parenting plan how will this happen; and
- If a dispute arises between the parents regarding the plan how will it be resolved.
This list is not exhaustive and any aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child or any other aspect of parental responsibility may be included in the agreement. Parenting Plans are discussed in section 63C of the Family Law Act 1975.
- No need to go to court, therefore cost and stress is significantly reduced.
- Agreement is made between the parties only, therefore it’s private and parents have complete control to determine the content of the agreement.
- Alterations can be made to the plan at any time, in writing, due to the flexible nature of the agreement.
- Although the plan must be constructed by the parents, other individuals may be parties to the agreement (e.g. grandparent).
- Children of the relationship feel more supported, as they know there is a structured plan in place for their care and that their parents will not spend time arguing over the minutiae of their welfare, post-separation.
- Though not legally binding, the court will take the agreement into consideration if the parents ultimately decide that a Parenting Order is necessary.
- Not legally enforceable, however parties may apply to the Court for Parenting Orders if they require a legally binding agreement.
Registered Parenting Plans
The law no longer provides for Parenting Plans to be registered and this process ceased in 2004. However, an existing pre-2004 registered Parenting Plan still applies and the content of the agreement is implemented in the same manner as a Parenting Order. Therefore, the parties to the registered agreement are bound to the terms, as it is a legally enforceable document, unlike the post-2004 agreements.
An exception to the enforceability of existing registered Parenting Plans is where the child is required to live with a person who is not a parent. Such clauses are unenforceable and a subsequent court order would be required to enforce. The same applies to child maintenance provisions, where one parent is able to apply for a child support assessment.
Amending or revoking a Parenting Plan
The parties to an unregistered Parenting Plan have the power to alter or revoke the agreement at any time provided the parties agree in writing. If there is a pre-2004 registered Parenting Plan in place, the parties must obtain the Court’s permission to alter or revoke terms as an agreement between the parties is not enough.
For a sensible approach to your Parenting Plan requirements, contact one of our experienced, approachable lawyers at www.adelaidelegal.net.au
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Senior Associate Lawyer