What is a parenting plan? What are parenting orders?
… do we even need them?
Even if you have a good relationship with your former spouse or partner, it is a really good and sensible idea to formalize any agreement you make about the care of your children.
By doing so, you reduce the risk of future conflict because you have set out clear guidelines and expectations you both have about the future care, welfare and development of your children.
It’s a good idea to get legal advice before entering either a parenting plan or parenting orders.
Getting legal advice doesn’t mean you will fight an agreement out in court. It means you know the agreement or orders are made with the best interests of your children in mind and all the necessary issues you may not think, or know, to include by yourselves, are included.
And don’t you agree… if it is possible to do so, it is much better to try and maintain some control over the outcome by negotiating and compromising with your former spouse or partner than allowing the court to decide who your children will live with, and how much time they will spend with you?
So… what is a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is a written document outlining how parents will raise their children after separation or divorce.
A parenting plan can help reduce conflict between parents by setting out clear guidelines and expectations. You want to reduce the risk of current or future conflict, right? It’s important to try and cooperate and keep conflict to an absolute minimum if possible to ensure that your children better cope with your separation and they can get on with what they do best – being kids.
A parenting plan doesn’t have to use legal words. It focuses on parenting arrangements relevant to the care and development of your children, such as (NOTE: this list is not exhaustive):
- where the children will live and when they will spend time with the other parent, usually including holiday times and special occasions.
- how decisions will be made (for example, jointly or individually but in consultation with the other parent);
- how you will share information (for example, by email or using a communication book, or informally, during conversation at change-over);
- processes you will use to resolve disputes (for example, family therapy or mediation);
A parenting plan should be realistic about what arrangements will work best for your child.
It is worthwhile including a section about when you will sit down and review the parenting plan. What suits your children now, might not be best for them in another 5 or 10 years, especially if they are very young when you make the agreement.
You can develop a parenting plan together. If you need help reaching agreement, mediation, counsellors, therapists or social workers can help you to reach an agreement.
And of course, it is a good idea to get independent legal advice about your parenting plan to make sure you have all the issues covered and to find out the advantages and disadvantages of using a parenting plan rather than parenting orders. You might not think of everything, and that’s understandable, but you don’t want an issue to come up in the future that could have been addressed now.
And what about parenting orders… what are they?
Parenting orders can be made by agreement or by court order.
Parenting orders include most of the same things as a parenting plan, for example, where the children will live and when, and how much time they will spend with the other parent. They should be made with a realistic view about what the best parenting arrangements for your children are.
The language used in parenting orders is usually more formal than in a parenting plan.
It is important to understand, formalizing your agreement as orders does not mean you will need to go to Court or that the process is not affordable. Unless there are already family court proceedings underway (for example, for property settlement), the orders can usually be made without you needing to go to court.
Having parenting orders may sometimes be less expensive than using a parenting plan in the long-term because if one parent doesn’t comply with the orders, the other parent can make an application to the Family Court to enforce the orders. Parenting plans on the other hand are not legally enforceable if one parent decides not to comply with the agreement.
It is a good idea to get independent legal advice about the parenting orders and to have a lawyer prepare the orders that are appropriate that properly reflect your agreement and, as much as possible, to take into account all the issues that should be covered. You might not think of everything, and that’s understandable, but you don’t want an issue to come up in the future that could have been addressed now.
For advice about your particular circumstances and whether a parenting plan or parenting orders should be used to document the arrangements for your children, get in touch with Megan Sweetlove for a confidential discussion at firstname.lastname@example.org
DISCLAIMER: The information you read on this site is not, and is not intended to be, legal advice. Sweetlove Family Law produces this information sheet for the purpose of providing general information only on relevant topics of interest in relation to Family Law. This information sheet is current at the time it is produced however you should not rely on the general information contained in this information sheet as legal advice. You should consult a lawyer for advice regarding your own specific circumstances.