|It’s all about the children|
We all wish we didn’t have to go there.
The reality is that some of us will.
Co-parenting can work really well, but it can also be a treacherous minefield.
I first knew about parenting plans from my friends who had gone through separation. I heard how hard it was to get the other parent to the negotiating table and then to abide by the arrangements that were in it.
When it came to my own separation and divorce, things were initially going smoothly. We had a conversation about how we were going to co-parent, the days that the boys would spend with each of us and the rest remained pretty flexible.
But then my husband was jailed, as all kinds of truths came to the surface. My first instinct was to protect my children and I knew that I needed legal advice.
I found out that even though the Family Law Act states that both parents have equal responsibility for their children, this doesn’t mean that the children must spend equal time with both parents.
I found out that when making a parenting plan you should consider:
- who they spend birthdays with – theirs, the parents’, extended family;
- who they spend other special occasions with – Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, etc;
- how will you organise school holidays;
- how will you make decisions in relation to parenting, education and living arrangements;
- how flexible do you want your arrangements to be – do you want to leave them loose or fixed, as in specific dates for some things – is there any room for negotiation?
Keep in mind that the relationship you have with the children’s co-parent is likely to change. How will you feel when they re-partner? How will your life change when you re-partner? Parenting plans can be renegotiated, but it takes willingness and cooperation from both parents for this to not turn into a messy legal battle.
I also found out that unless you have a court order giving you sole responsibility for your children, if you’re the primary care giver, you are restricted in being able to relocate. You must seek the other parent’s agreement. There are no such restrictions on the other parent.
I found out that even when you have a court order giving you sole responsibility for your children and the other parent has no access rights, you still need their signature to organise passports for your children and to change their names.
The most useful thing I found out was the importance of writing everything down. You don’t need to lodge it with the Court, but, depending on your situation, you might want to. It gives you a baseline for any further negotiations and potential problems.
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