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Parenting Arrangements and Parenting Plans: Guidance from a Family Lawyer

The tricky division of time
After your separation, parenting arrangements and the time that your children spend between your home and your partner’s home can be a source of great conflict. The majority of legal disputes around children relate to this issue – how will you carve up the days in a week, the weeks in a month or the months in a year so that it is the best thing for your children?

And for the majority of families, agreements are reached that see children moving between their parents’ homes with regularity.

It is common for parents to disagree on the arrangements for their children after separation. As family lawyers who specialise in parenting plans and arrangements, we can help you negotiate agreements or attend mediation or, where necessary, access the Family Law Courts to find outcomes for your family.

When it comes to your parenting arrangements there is no requirement to have legal documents, however we find setting out a written plan for your kids can really you’re your family move forward. The two main ways you can document arrangements for your kids are:

  • Parenting plans
  • Court Orders

Parenting Arrangements and Parenting Plans:
Guidance from a Family Lawyer

Is there a ‘right way’?

There is no one perfect way to construct parenting arrangements for children after the breakdown of your relationship. Perhaps the main thing to keep in mind when thinking about arrangements for your children is this – children at different ages will benefit from different parenting regimes. What might work for a thirteen-year-old is unlikely to work as well for a six-month-old baby.

As a parent you will know that your children change almost every day, and the time that a mother might spend with a very young baby clearly changes as that child ages. Depending on your family unit and the roles that each of you as parents has undertaken, the arrangements for your children could vary significantly.

If your children are very young at the time of your separation it is likely that the parenting arrangements you put in place now will change as your children get older and their needs change.

Every child is different just as every family is different. For this reason, there is no set arrangement that you must follow and the people best armed with the tools needed to make decisions for their children after a separation are you- the parents. However, you can always seek advice from a parenting plan lawyer if you feel like you need it.

Remember there is no one right way to divide the time your children spend between you and your partner after your separation. Think carefully about your own family, your children and your routines and don’t be afraid to try different things to see what works best.

Here are some things to consider that might assist when you are discussing or proposing arrangements for your children:

If your family had a stay-at-home parent and a working parent, your children may have been used to arrangements where one of you has taken on the primary parent role. It is quite common now in Australia for families to have two full-time working parents, and in those families it’s often the case that children are quite well used to being cared for by one or both parents at differing times. The arrangements that your children were used to prior to your separation can of course change after your separation, but it’s important to take them into account as you formulate new arrangements. You may want to make the transition for children gradual if they are moving from being used to being cared for by one of their parents to an arrangement that will have them being cared for more equally by both of their parents.

Very young children (under 24 months) tend to benefit from arrangements that have them spending most of their time with their primary attachment figure. Historically in many families this has been the mother, but in modern society this is not always the case. If any of your children are very young at the time of your separation, it can be worth considering having a series of short-term parenting plans or parenting agreements, rather than trying to predict the parenting arrangements for your children well into their teenage years. This way you and your former partner can test different things to see how your children cope.

Sometimes the hardest parenting arrangements to consider are when you have children of varying ages from very young children up to teenagers. It is quite common for these families to have different arrangements for each of their children, taking into account their unique needs. This, of course, requires cooperation between parents, but can sometimes produce much better results for the children involved. Think about the differing ages of your children and whether it might be better to consider arrangements that are specific to each child. Generally it’s best if siblings can travel with each other as a sibship unit, but if you have a toddler and a teenager as part of your family, it might be best to consider differing arrangements for each of those children.

Parenting teenagers is never easy and perhaps even harder after separation. If you are dealing with children aged fifteen and above, their personal views will have a big impact on the arrangements that you might consider appropriate for them. Not only their views but their routines become incredibly important at this age. Teenagers will often be under significant pressure at school, be trying to maintain friendship groups and on the weekend are sometimes engaged in part-time employment. Like with all children, consistency and routine remains important, but taking into account their views and wishes is essential if you want the parenting arrangements to work. This doesn’t mean that just because a teenager suggests something, that it should then happen. What is important is to try and understand what they consider best as part of any discussion you and your partner have about arrangements for them.

Personality and temperament of any child will influence how well they can cope with the change. It is, of course, not uncommon with multiple children in a family to have three very different personalities or temperaments among three siblings. While this cannot always be balanced perfectly, it’s something that should be considered by you and your spouse when you are discussing parenting arrangements. If you have a child that is particularly attached to one parent, sometimes it might be important to work at building the attachment with the other parent rather than simply encouraging the already secure attachment with the first parent. You might have children who are very robust or children who are very shy and vulnerable. Again, if you are considering changing their routines or arrangements that they’ve been used to for some time, it’s worth considering how you think the personalities or temperaments of your children may or may not be affected by any change.

Specific health needs can impact on your parenting arrangements. Depending on the significance of any health needs, if a parent has not been as used to dealing with those needs, it might be best to consider whether you, as parents, can share information to make things easier for your children, and particularly for any children with special needs. The frequency of conditions such as autism and other mental health conditions within children seems to be increasing, or at least obtaining much more attention than it has ever previously. If you are the parent of a child with these sorts of needs, you will no doubt have much knowledge as to what is best for your child and you should take that medical opinion and advice into account when you are considering the parenting arrangements for your children, and that child in particular, moving forward.

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