When a relationship breaks down and there are children involved, it can have an enormous impact on children both emotionally and psychologically. Children have the right to a meaningful relationship with both parents and the right to be protected from harm. While a relationship breakdown is a difficult time, you may want to consider how the children will spend time with the other parent.
A good place to start is to try and communicate with your former spouse, providing it is safe to do so, and discuss the care arrangements of your children. When doing so, try to remember that you and your former spouse are deciding upon what is in the best interests of your children, not what is best for you.
When you and your former spouse have reached an agreement as to the care, welfare, and development of your children, you may wish to formalise these arrangements by way of a Parenting Plan.
A Parenting Plan is a voluntary agreement entered into by both parents documenting how the children will be raised after separation or divorce. It is a good way to reduce conflict between the parents and will provide both parents with clear guidelines as to the care and development of the children. Parenting Plans can be changed at any time if both parents have agreed.
The Family Law Act 1975 (Cth) section 63C (2) sets out what a parenting plan may deal with. This list is not exhaustive and can include any aspect of the care, welfare and development of the chid or parental responsibility. Under the Act, the Parenting Plan must be in writing, free from coercion or duress, and be signed and dated by both parents of the child.
There are some important things to consider when making a Parenting Plan.
Firstly, Parenting Plans are different to Parenting Orders in that Parenting Plans are not legally binding and are not enforceable by the Court. If parents find themselves in Court down the track, the Court must consider the most recent Parenting Plan when deciding to make Parenting Orders, provided it is in the best interest of the child.
Secondly, your Parenting Plan can impact your entitlements to Centrelink and can affect your Child Support Assessment. As Family Tax Benefit Part A is directly affected by the amount of Child Support you may receive, if the Child Support Agency holds a copy of your Parenting Plan they may use this to base the care levels in your assessment based on the information contained in your Parenting Plan. Centrelink may also use the care levels in your Parenting Plan when assessing any Centrelink entitlements. You should not let the amount of support you receive by either department affect how much time each parent should spend with the children.
You may decide that you wish to have your Parenting Plan formalised by a Court by way of Consent Orders which is an Order made by the Court become legally binding on both parents and is enforceable. If you have a parenting Order made after 1 July 2006, you can make changes to your Order through a Parenting Plan.
It is a good idea to get legal advice about your Parenting Plans to ensure you have covered all aspects of the care, welfare and development of your children as intended. We at Miller Sockhill Lawyers can provide you with tailored advice regarding your family law matter, and we offer a free 30-minute consultation for new clients on all family law matters.
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