Family Law Library

Parenting Plans

A Parenting Plan must deal with one or more of the following matters:

  • the person or persons with whom the child is to live,
  • the time that the child is to spend with another person or other persons,
  • the allocation of parental responsibilities for a child,
  • how parents consult about decisions to be made,
  • communication the child is to have with others,
  • maintenance of a child,
  • how to resolve disputes about the plan,
  • how to change the plan to for changing needs of the child parents and
  • any aspect of the care, welfare or development of the child or any other aspects of parental responsibility for a child.

A Parenting Order may be varied by a later Parenting Plan, but Parenting Plans cannot be enforced as an Order. When an application is made to a Court for Orders in relation to a child, the most recent Parenting Plan will be considered, if it is in the child’s best interest.

A parenting plan will be unworkable where:

  • both Consent Orders and the plan deal with the same subject matter ,
  • the plan is vague and uncertain,
  • the plan is silent on important issues or
  • the plan deals with issues that cannot be part of a parenting plan such as Child Support or spouse maintenance.

Why Every Family Should have One

Divorcing parents are often so busy with their own anger or arguing over who gets what to remember their most important shared property – their children.   By law, parents have a shared responsibility, which means that both parents must take care of their children’s financial, emotional and physical needs.  Family law in Australia encourages parents to work together on these issues and encourages families to create a “parenting plan” before divorce or the termination of a de facto relationship.

The purpose of a parenting plan is to detail the responsibilities and rights of each parent in order to do what’s best for the children.   A good parenting plan includes a day-to-day schedule for the children,  a break-down of time that each parent is to spend with the child for every day of the year, including all civil, religious and school holidays, payments for all of the various expenses, including medical, dental and after school activities, and how the parents will settle future disagreements.  The court cannot grant a divorce order until it is satisfied that proper parenting arrangements are in place.  If parents are unable to create a parenting plan on their own, the court will do it for them.

The best parenting plan is one made by the parents themselves.  Some parents are able to do this on their own, or with the help of a mediator or another trained professional in other methods of Family Dispute Resolution.

While a parenting plan is an agreement between the parents and cannot be enforced by the courts, there are legal remedies if a parent does not follow the plan.  The other parent may turn to the court and the court may make new orders based on the original parenting plan.

Below are five reasons to make a parent plan.

Everybody knows where they stand

A good parenting plan will include everything from which nights the children sleep at Dad’s house to what religion they will be brought up in to how the parents will settle disagreements between themselves.  This limits places for disagreement and fighting between parents and gives them the tools to resolve disputes when they arise.  There’s no disagreement about where the kids will go for Christmas because it’s written in the plan.

More importantly, the children have stability.   No matter what the arrangement, divorce or separation is hard on the children.  But having a regular routine, knowing that both parents agree on a particular decision and maintaining a loving relationship with both parents will make the transition – and the coming years – easier.

Building Trust

Most likely, there is a lot of mistrust with the termination of the relationship.  Oddly, a parenting plan can help parents rebuild their faith in one another.   Creating the plan may also allow parents to hear from their children what they need and want.   Children, who may feel insecure in the new family setup, may be able to find a way to overcome emotional insecurity and learn to trust the family relationships again.

Starting Fresh

Laying out the plan ahead of time is not just good for the kids – it’s good for the parents too.  Following divorce or the end of a de facto relationship, parents have their own issues to cope with – living on one income, taking care of a home, and perhaps, even starting a new relationship.   Each parent needs to find time for him or herself to begin fresh but still be a responsible, caring parent.  A parenting plan that lays out the when and where, and leaves less room for surprises creates stability and structure for the parents as well as the children.

Financial Planning for Present and Future

A good parenting plan will detail who covers which expenses.   In addition to the basics like food and clothing, there are many “extras” that also need to be considered, including special medical and dental expenses, after-school activities and summer camp.  As children get older, parents need to think about driving lessons, university fees, and even weddings.  A good plan will take the future – and not just the current month or year – into consideration.  The current parenting plan doesn’t need to have all of these expenses included already, but it should provide a way for the parents to work out the division of these costs as they arise.  For example, parents may agree on percentages of incomes to be paid to a university fund for each child.    This prevents arguments between the “ex’s” and allows both sides to properly plan for the future.

A method for working it out

No plan is foolproof, and one of the most important parts of a good parenting plan is the mechanism for settling disputes.  For divorcing couples, this might even be the first time there is a plan for such inevitabilities in place.  Each family must figure out what works best for them.   Some may settle disputes by meeting over coffee in a neutral place.  Others may feel an outside mediator is necessary.   In many cases, just knowing a system for resolving problems exists helps families work through any difficulties that arise.

And one last note…..

Despite the plan, parents should remember that parenting doesn’t always follow a plan, despite the good intentions of both parents.   It’s inevitable that one parent will suddenly have an amazing work or vacation opportunity and ask the other parent to fill in, or a child will want both parents to be involved in a special project.   Parents need to remember that the children are at the centre of any good plan.  They are not machines, they can’t always follow the adult rules parents make for them and they have their own needs and wants.   Parents need to remain open-minded, flexible and fair, even if every detail is not written into the plan.