Under the Family Law Act 1975, a parenting plan is made when an agreement about your children is signed and dated by both parents of the child.
Other significant people taking on a parenting-type role, like grandparents, or a step-parent who is now separated from the biological parent, can be included.
A parenting plan is not legally enforceable and is different from a parenting order, which is made by a court.
However, you can choose to make your parenting plan into a consent order, which is then legally binding and enforceable.
If one of you later decides to go to court later, the court must consider your most recent parenting plan and whether you have been following it.
You can agree to vary family law court orders by using a parenting plan.
If you want to rely on a parenting plan, as a legal document, you should legal advice from a specialist family lawyer.
The best parenting plans are those that are clear, so you can both understand them and work from them.
There are many things you might want to include. The ones we see most often include:
• The time our children will spend with each parent
• Our children communicating with each parent
• How our children will move between households
• How school holidays will be shared
• How we will resolve any future disagreements
Best interests of the child
Your children and their needs come first, before the needs of either parent.
Children have the right to know both their parents and the right to be protected from harm.
Equal shared parental responsibility
Except where there are safety issues like violence or abuse,
the Family Law Act says it is in the best interest of a child for the parents to have equal shared parental responsibility.
This does not mean ‘equal time’ but means each of you has an equal role in making decisions about major long-term issues that affect your children.
If you agree to share parental responsibility, you need to agree about the major issues in your children’s lives, like what school they will go to.
Day to day decisions, like what they will eat or wear, are the responsibility of each of you individually when your children are with you.
We recommend including provisions in your parenting plan about how you
will make decisions together about long-term issues.
If it is in the best interests of your children and reasonably practicable,
you might consider an arrangement for the children to spend equal time with both of you.
Practicalities vary from family to family, but you might think about how far you live from the other parent,
your working hours and availability before and after school,
the age and resilience of your children and how well you and the other parent communicate.
Substantial and significant time
If equal time is not suitable for your children, then you could consider a ‘substantial and significant time arrangement’
which includes time on weekdays, weekends, holidays, special days like birthdays
and for significant family, religious or cultural events.
If you have problems with your parenting plan and can’t reach agreement, there are counselling and dispute resolution services that can assist you.
You can also contact the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 for information and advice, including referrals to services in your local area that can help, like a Family Relationship Centre.
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