Separating parents know that they need to make arrangements for
their children as to where and when they will live with each
parent. This was formally known as custody and access. We now talk
about where the children will live and who they will spend time
I find that parents are fearful of losing the relationship with
their children that they enjoyed prior to their separation.
However, if parents seek the appropriate help and make proper
arrangements together, the children will feel more secure in
knowing where and when they are meant to be with each parent. The
sooner the parents are able to make these arrangements the more
beneficial it is to the children in providing for their
Parents can either set up a Parenting Plan or Consent Orders. A
Parenting Plan is not a legally enforceable document and lawyers
often prefer parents to enter into Consent Orders. It is possible,
if agreement is reached, for Consent Orders to be entered into
without either party attending at court. When those Orders are made
they have the same legal force as if they had been made by a Judge
after a hearing. It is in the parent's best interest to obtain
legal advice on the effect of the proposed Orders.
There are certain requirements the Parenting Plan must comply
with in order to be considered a Parenting Plan under the
Family Law Act. It needs to be made free of threat,
coercion and duress, be in writing, dated and signed by both
If parents cannot reach an agreement, they are able to go to
court to apply for Orders to be made. Many parents find that they
are not happy with Orders made by the court. It is my
recommendation for parents to negotiate arrangements that suit
them, if possible, rather than having a court imposed order.
I recommend that parents do the following:
speak directly to their former spouse to negotiate an agreement
that works for them, or
if they are unable to do this, then either meet with a
mediator who will be able to assist in the
resolution of the matter, or retain a lawyer who
is collaboratively trained or focuses on settlement of issues.
Whether you discuss the arrangements directly with your former
spouse, meet with a mediator or meet with a lawyer, I always
suggest to my clients that, to prepare for the meeting, they:
obtain a year planner and note down any days that are important
to their family including birthdays, grandparents' birthdays,
religious events, Father's day, Mother's day and any
celebrations that are celebrated by the family. This will help you
define what needs to be discussed
prepare a list of the children's extra-curricular
commitments, including what is involved in getting them to and
collecting them from those activities, and
make notes of school arrangements, including how the children
get to school, school times etc, taking into account each
party's work commitments.
The Parenting Plan or Consent Orders can cover issues such as
the children's education, living arrangements, how the parents
wish to parent the children, issues involving religion, education,
health care and considering the general wellbeing of the
When setting up a Parenting Plan or Consent Orders, make sure
they are simple and practical. The plan should be easy to
understand and outline what is expected of each party.
Always ensure parental conflicts are reduced and do not take
place in front of the children. I cannot stress the importance of
parents not discussing children's affairs and arrangements or
any other issues that have occurred at changeover in front of the
children, particularly if you do not communicate well. It is better
to email or set up a time to speak to the other parent in relation
to those issues.
Parents have to think about the effect that their separation is
having on the children and consider that when planning further. It
may be that the children need a period of transition whilst you
make their new home as familiar as possible with photos and toys.
Changeovers should be as natural and friendly as possible. Most
importantly do not commit to arrangements that you are unable to
stick to as this will cause disruption in your arrangements and
negotiations of any other issues.
I wish you all the best in negotiating parenting arrangements.
Remember they are your children and you and your former spouse know
what's best for them, also considering their idiosyncrasies.
Therefore, parents are the best people to make parenting
arrangements, not a Judge who will never even have met your
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