The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) encourages parents to reach an agreement on their children’s matters before commencing legal proceedings. Parents are expected to enter into a parenting agreement or apply for a consent order to deal with parenting matters.
A parenting arrangement can be in either a parenting plan or a parenting order.
What is a parenting plan?
Under section 63C of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), a parenting plan is an agreement in writing that sets out parenting arrangements for a child or children. It is voluntarily made between the parents of a child. It should be signed and dated by the parents. The plan should contain parenting arrangements that are in the best interest of the child or children.
What can be included in a parenting plan?
A parenting plan typically involves the following matters:
- the allocation of parental responsibility for a child (for example, shared or sole);
- who a child is to live with;
- what time a child is to spend with each parent;
- what time a child is to spend with other persons (for example, grandparents);
- the communication a child is to have with each parent or other persons (for example, by telephone, video, email, or letter, etc);
- what arrangements are to be made for special days (for example, birthdays, school holidays, festivals, etc);
- overseas travel;
- maintenance of a child;
- how to change the plan or resolve any disagreements about the plan;
- any other issues of care, welfare, or development of a child; and
- any other aspects of parental responsibility of a child.
What kind of information do I have to consider?
According to section 63DA of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), in order to make a parenting plan, some of the considerations that you should take into account and consult with an adviser who can be a legal practitioner, family counsellor, family dispute resolution practitioner or a family consultant prior to entering into that agreement:
- whether the child spending equal time with each of their parents is reasonably practicable and in the best interest of the child;
- whether the child spending time with each of the parents is not reasonably practicable or is not in the best interests of the child, but whether the child spending substantial and significant time with each of them is reasonably practicable and in the best interests of the child;
- whether there is a parenting order in force in relation to the child, the order may include a provision that the order is subject to a parenting plan they enter into;
- whether the parents are to share parental responsibility for the child under the plan, it is desirable to include in the plan provisions for the form of consultations about decisions to be made, the process of resolving disputes, and the process for changing the plan to take into account the changing needs or circumstances of the child or the parties; and
- the availability of programs to help people who experience difficulties in complying with a parenting plan.
What is the legal effect of a parenting plan?
A parenting plan is not a legally enforceable agreement. If a party acts in a way that is contrary to the plan, the Court is not able to require the parties to abide by the agreement. For example, if the other party contravenes the plan by not returning the child to you, you may not be able to rely on the Court to return the child.
However, section 65DAB of the Family Law Act 1975 requires the court to have regard to the terms of the most recent parenting plan in relation to the child when making a parenting order in relation to the child if it is in the best interests of the child to do so.
The parties do not need to go to Court to enter into the parenting plan, but it is recommended that they seek legal advice before entering into any parenting plan.
Why is a parenting plan important?
A parenting plan is important for various reasons:
- A parenting plan ensures that post-separation the child has a routine and stability. It would be in the best interest of the child to have a well-structured plan that ensures that the child hasa sense of normalcy and stability. This is important in making sure the child’s psychological and physical well-being are being met.
- A parenting plan is a testament to the Court the parent’s commitment to the child’s best interest, which can influence legal proceedings.
- It may help avoid misunderstanding and conflict as the plan clearly sets out each party’s expectations and responsibilities.
What if you find difficulties in complying with a parenting plan?
If you and your former partner is unable to resolve the issues in relation to the parenting plan, a solution may include seeking a range of services for help such as dispute resolution and counselling in Family Relationships Centres.
What services can help in developing a parenting plan?
The Family Relationship Advice Line is able to provide advice, and relevant information and refer you to local services. You can reach Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321. If you require legal advice please contact one of our lawyers at Family Lawyers and Mediators Australia on 1300 382 388.
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