When a couple starts the process of separation and divorce, it is the beginning of an entirely new set of challenges for all members of the family. One of the chief concerns is parenting arrangements and which parent will have custody of the children.
In this article, you will understand more about parenting arrangements due to separation and divorce.
To help you navigate this stressful time, here are the top seven questions.
1. What is a Parenting Arrangement?
A parenting arrangement is a plan for the care of the children after separation. Parenting arrangements can also include parenting plans, a parenting plan is an informal written agreement where the separating parents decide how they will care for their child or children when they are no longer a couple.
Cooperation during this process is strongly encouraged because reaching an amicable set of decisions will make the separation process easier for the child and help the separating couple avoid unpleasant and expensive court battles.
2. What Details Should a Parenting Plan Contain?
There are a great many important points that need to be a part of a parenting arrangement.
Here are some examples to consider:
- Where the child lives
- How parents will make decisions regarding the child
- A parenting schedule showing when and how much time each parent has with the child
- Which parent will attend the child’s events
- What activities each parent will participate in with their child
- How the child will keep in touch with the other parent
- A schedule of time spent with grandparents and other significant people in the child’s life
- How the parents will communicate about the child
- Financial arrangements regarding the child
- A schedule dividing holidays and other special events between the parents
3. What is Child Custody?
Although the term Child Custody is a common term when discussing family law issues, it is not a term used in the Australian Family Court. In Australia, the term we use is Parental Responsibility. Parental Responsibility about a child means “all the duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, parents have about children“ (section 61B of the Family Law Act 1975).
There is a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility (joint custody) when courts make parenting orders, which means both parents would have a say concerning their children. However, depending on the situation, sole parental responsibility (sole custody) can also be given to one parent.
4. Must Parents Go to Court to Decide on Parenting Plans?
Because of the time, cost, and emotional strain associated with bringing the decisions regarding a child’s future before the court, separating parents are strongly encouraged to work together to create a parenting plan outside of the courts. After making a parenting plan, parents can opt to petition the court to make the plan a legally binding parenting order.
5. What are the Alternatives to Court?
Australia has several viable alternatives to going to court to arrange parental plans. About 97 per cent of divorce cases do not involve ex-spouses solving parental arrangements in court.
- Informal Agreements – These are an excellent first step to determining parental plans. However, informal agreements are not enforceable by law. Your legal representative can help you formalise the agreement to make it binding.
- Mediation– Also called Family Dispute Resolution or FDR, mediation is required before the court will hear a case regarding parenting arrangements or property division. Each party will meet with a mediator (and their legal representative) and work together to reach a fair decision regarding the child’s parenting.
- Arbitration – A form of dispute resolution outside of the court, arbitration is a quicker and less costly way of settling disputes between separating spouses. The parents and their legal advisors meet with an independent arbitrator who hears the details of the case and decides on fair solutions to the contested points.
6. Is an Informal Parenting Arrangement Legally Binding?
To make parenting arrangements binding, separating parents must file them with the courts. Once the Australian Courts approved and seal a parenting arrangement, it becomes a legally binding parenting order. The order has all of the legal weight as any order handed down by the court.
If circumstances change, parents may rewrite their parenting arrangement and submit it to the court. At this time, if the court approves, the previous parenting order is null, and the new parenting order becomes enforceable by law.
7. What Law Governs Child Custody and Parenting Plans?
The Australian Family Law Act of 1975 is clear that the key factor in deciding parenting arrangements and child custody is determining what is in the child’s best interest. The goal is to give the child a secure and nurturing environment by ensuring the following,
- How having a meaningful relationship with both parents will benefit the child
- Protecting the child from physical or psychological harm
- Protecting the child from being subjected or exposed to abuse, neglect, or family violence.
*Please Note* If these considerations oppose each other, the Australian Family Court will always put the child’s safety first.
Understanding all the rules involved in the separation and divorce process is complicated, especially when parenting arrangements are a part of the equation. To help our new clients understand what is happening and why we offer a free one-hour consultation with no obligation. During this time, you can learn more about the process and decide if you feel Allegra Family Lawyers is the right law firm to represent you.
The cost of the divorce process surprises many people. To help us better serve our clients, Allegra Family Lawyers offer packages with prices varying based on services. So, you know how much you will pay to sort out parenting arrangements before you spend a penny. In many cases, we can arrange payment plans with our clients.
If you are separating and would like to speak with professionals who care, contact us and make your consultation appointment at your convenience. We are ready to put our experience to work for you.