Separation and divorce are hard and stir up some very difficult emotions. These emotions can often get in the way of being able to communicate effectively, meaning even the simplest of discussions may turn into an argument, such as organising simple parenting arrangements for your children.
If you’ve hit a roadblock and can’t agree on parenting plans, then you should know the next steps and legal options. Keep in mind that every parenting arrangement is unique – it should your circumstances, and your next steps will impact your situation. It’s always best to speak to a family lawyer who works in parenting arrangement matters to help you make the right decisions.
What Is a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is document outlining the care arrangements for a child or children. It is not legally enforceable. There is no legal requirement for formatting, it does not need to be witnessed, but agreement which has been drafted into a parenting plan is likely to be considered in Court in the event of a dispute. Parenting plan arrangements may include:
- Where the child lives and with whom.
- Who the child spends time with and communicates with.
- Details of the child’s schooling or childcare.
- Details of medical issues or wishes.
- Details of the child’s religion or cultural practices.
- Financial support arrangements for the child.
- Parental responsibilities of each parent or guardian.
- How those with parental responsibilities will communicate with one another.
A parenting plan should be made with the best interest of the child in mind. When parents cannot agree on a parenting plan, it might be worthwhile thinking about taking the next step and applying for a parenting order with the Court.
What to Do If You Can’t Agree on a Parenting Plan
1. Come to an agreement between yourselves.
Before seeking court intervention for a dispute about any parenting plan, you should exhaust all possible avenues. If you can’t agree on a parenting plan, find a family lawyer who handles child arrangements, and discuss your options for your situation. All options include family dispute resolution (FDR), being mediation. Talk to your support network about presenting new ideas to aid in an agreement. Once all these options have been exhausted, your lawyer may advise you to instigate legal proceedings.
2. Try family dispute resolution.
Before applying for a parenting order from the Court, you’ll be required to undergo family dispute resolution, or FDR. Family dispute resolution services can be used to resolve parenting arrangement disputes and help parents come to a mutual agreement. These arrangements can then be formally written down and lodged with the court as a consent order to make it legally binding.
If family dispute resolution or mediation does not result in an agreed outcome for parenting, the FDR practitioner will supply you with a certificate which you must present to the Court to when applying for a parenting order. They also provide a certificate if one parent refuses to participate in family dispute resolution.
3. Apply for a parenting order from the court.
A parenting order is an order made by the Federal Circuit or Family Court outlining the responsibilities of parents or guardians. It is a legally enforceable document, and if your matter is contested all the way to a trial, you may have little say over the outcome. The Court makes a parenting order based on what is in the best interest of the child, which will take into account:
- The evidence you present to the Court.
- Opinions from independent experts such as psychiatrists, and social workers/family report writers
- Wishes of the child.
- Financial responsibility for the child.
- Your child’s well-being.
- Parenting time.
It is best to seek professional legal advice if you’ll be attending Court for a parenting order to give you guidance on your matter.
Frequently Asked Questions About Parenting Plans
Can a child decide which parent they live with in Australia?
A child may have a say on which parent they wish to live with in Australia, but there is no guarantee this will be the outcome. If a parenting plan is made between parents outside of the Court system, they may ask an appropriate qualified independent person to seek the child’s input on who they want to spend time with and when, or they may not. When parenting orders are issued by the Court, they will take the child’s wishes into account, but also must make a decision based on the best interest of the child’s health, and safety.
Are parenting plans legally binding?
A parenting plan is not a legally enforceable agreement in Australia. However, the Courts may still take the document into consideration if the dispute gets that far. This is why many separated or divorced parents seek legal help when creating parenting plans to find legally binding and enforceable options.
What is the most common time arrangement in Australia?
Joint time is the most common time arrangement with parents in Australia. Also known as shared care, joint time also normally involves both parents having equal or shared involvement in making major decisions regarding the child, including their education, religion, healthcare and more. However, there is no universal solution to the way time arrangements are drafted and parenting plan/Court orders should be created to suit the needs of the family and in the best interest of the child.
How much does family dispute resolution cost?
Some family dispute resolution services may be free, but they tend to have a longer waitlist. The cost of family dispute resolution depends on the practitioner and your financial situation, so it is best to consult with your family lawyer, or contact various FDR services for costing information.