If you are separating or getting divorced and you have children, it is important that you and the child’s other parent agree on parenting arrangements. To make sure that everyone is on the same page and that the best interests of the child are being considered, making a formal parenting agreement is recommended rather than allowing the court to decide for you.
A parenting plan should address all issues that could affect your children in the short term and the long term. Depending on how you and the other parent feel, it may be an oral or written agreement or consent orders issued by the court. If you are not sure what to include in your plan and parenting schedule, talking to family lawyers could help.
What is a parenting plan?
A parenting agreement is different in every case. There are no strict rules about what to include, as it should be based on your unique circumstances and the needs of your child. However, the court normally prefers that children maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents, so long as this does not put them at risk of harm.
As well as outlining child custody and living arrangements, a parenting plan may clarify areas such as:
- holidays and other special arrangements
- child contact with extended family and friends
- preferred parenting style
- dividing child expenses
- schooling and extracurricular activities
- religion and culture
- health care
- communication while the child is away
Parenting agreements are not set in stone and should take into account a child’s changing needs as they grow up. Unless they are strictly enforced with court orders, these offer a guide to how both parents should provide for their child’s needs and safety and give everyone an idea of what to expect.
What is a consent order?
Parenting plans are not automatically binding and enforceable by law, even if they are signed and dated by both parties. If you are concerned that the child’s other parent may not follow the parenting arrangements as agreed, you can apply to the Family Court for consent orders.
A consent order can be given if the court approves of your written parenting agreement. This gives your parenting agreement legal status. Anyone who is concerned for the welfare and safety of children can apply for consent orders, including other family members.
If you and your former partner cannot agree on parenting arrangements, the Family Court will decide what is in the best interests of the child and will issue a parenting order for you.
Where can I get help?
It is always recommended that both parents try to arrange a parenting plan that they are both happy with rather than allowing the court to decide, but sometimes this is necessary. If you and your former partner are not on speaking terms or do not agree on parenting arrangements, you can contact community support services or family support lawyers to discuss dispute resolution and get advice.
A parenting plan or consent order does not cover other aspects of divorce and separation such as dividing assets. You can discuss these matters with your solicitor.
To find out more about child custody and how family lawyers could help you, click the image below to download our free ebook – Care and Protection: Know Your Rights and Where to Get Support