The end of a relationship can be difficult for everyone involved, often making it very challenging to set aside emotions and determine future arrangements that are in the best interests of the children.
When setting out arrangements for children, separated parties have the option of obtaining parenting orders (by agreement if possible) or entering into a less formal parenting plan. In deciding which option is most suitable, it is first important to understand the difference.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a written agreement that is dated and signed by both parties. There is no standard form of preparation, making it very easy to execute.
A parenting plan can address a range of issues including who the child lives with, who the child spends time with, allocation of parental responsibility, arrangements for special days such as birthdays and holidays as well as procedures for making long-term decisions regarding the care, welfare and development of the child. It is also advisable to include procedures for varying the plan and resolving any disputes about the terms of the plan.
A parenting plan is not legally enforceable. However, if a parenting plan is made and the case eventually goes before the court, the court must consider the terms of the latest parenting plan when making parenting orders. It is not bound by the terms of the parenting plan. Additionally, it is important to note that parties can agree to change arrangements in a parenting order by entering into a subsequent parenting plan. If this is done, parties may not be able to rely on parts of the previous parenting order that are inconsistent with the current parenting plan.
Application for Parenting Orders
If parties are able to reach an agreement, they always have the option of having the agreement approved by the Family Court by filing an Application for Consent Orders. This is a relatively simple process involving submitting an agreement to the court for approval by the Registrar. If the Registrar is satisfied that the agreement is in the child’s best interests, Court Orders will be made in accordance with the agreement.
An agreement between the parties that is approved by the court has the same effect as an order made by a court following a hearing. This means that if either party breaches a term of the order, then consequences can apply for the contravening party.
With the flexibility of a parenting plan and the legal enforceability of a parenting order, it is clear there are advantages to both options. The first recommendation is always that parties attempt to reach an agreement on their own and if successful, consider whether the agreement needs to be enforceable in the Family Courts.