What is a Parenting Plan and How Can it help?

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A parenting plan is a voluntary agreement that covers the day to day responsibilities of each parent, the practical considerations of a child’s daily life, as well as how parents will agree and consult on important long-term issues about their children. It can be changed at any time as long as both parents agree.

Why Make A Parenting Plan?

The family law system encourages separating parents to work out arrangements for children between themselves without going to court. One way parents can set out the arrangements they wish to put into place for their children is to make a parenting plan.

A parenting plan will not become legally binding until it is turned into consent orders and approved by the court.

Parenting Plans & Consent Orders

Consent orders are a written agreement that is approved by a court. A consent order can cover parenting arrangements for children as well as financial arrangements such as property and maintenance.

Consent orders have the same legal effect as if they had been made by a judicial officer after a court hearing. The Court must be satisfied that the orders you ask for are in the best interest of the child.

How to Write A Parenting Plan?

A parenting plan is made between the parents of the child and children and can only be put in place if it is agreed to by both parties. So having an amicable relationship and the best interest of the children in mind is most important.

In order to facilitate this agreement both parties will need to be willing to listen to the needs of the other and make compromises in order to come to an agreement.

Your plan will be unique to your circumstances. It should be practical, simple and as concrete as possible
The parenting plan can cover issues such as:

  • how the parents will share parental responsibility and consult about decisions (like which school the child will attend)
  • who the child will live with
  • what time the child will spend with each parent
  • what time the child will spend with other people, such as grandparents
  • how the child will communicate with each parent or other people (eg by phone, email or letters)
  • what arrangements need to be made for special days, such as birthdays and holidays
  • what process can be used to change the plan or resolve any disagreements about the plan
  • maintenance of a child, and
  • any other issue about parental responsibility or the care,welfare and development of the child

Parenting Plans And The Law

The Family Law Act 1975 sets out the details of parenting plans in Sections 63C, 64D and 70NBB.
For a parenting plan to exist under the Family Law Act 1975, it must be in writing, signed and dated by both parents, and made free from threat, duress or coercion.

Any parenting order made after 1 July 2006 can be altered by the creation of a parenting plan if both parents agree to the change. Therefore, an action that would otherwise have breached a court order may not be a contravention because of the subsequent parenting plan.
This saves the parents from having to go back to court to change or update their parenting orders or consent orders.

Parenting Plans And Child Support

Child support, or child maintenance, can be included in a parenting plan.
However, there are some extra considerations as child support is usually managed by the Department of Human Services (DHS).
If both parents agree on who will pay an agreed sum in child support to whom, they can self-manage their child support without the involvement of DHS. It may be useful to include this in the parenting plan.
If the parents go through DHS to arrange their child support, DHS will likely require a copy of the parenting plan. This is so they know how much care each parent is providing to the child, which may then affect the child support assessment.

Parenting plans are very useful documents for parents who can agree on how they will divide parental care and responsibility after separation.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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