One of the most common issues that family lawyers face is that of separated parenting disputing over their children. Often, one parent does not want to let the other parent spend time with the children or does not want the other parent to spend as much time with the children as they do. There are many reasons why this may be the case, whether it is a child support issue, an issue of family and domestic violence, drugs or just out of spite, the overall outcome is the same – until the parents are able to reach agreement, the children are often caught in the middle of feuding parents. So how do we approach this problem to avoid this?
The first step is to try to put aside any animosity that you may hold for the other parent. This is important if an agreement is to be reached without court proceedings. The second step is to focus on the children and what is in their best interest. There are many factors to consider in determining what is in a child’s best interest, including the views of the children themselves. Finally, document the agreement so it is clear what has been agreed and can be referred to in the event of a dispute.
There are two ways to record any parenting agreements reached; either by way of a parenting plan or consent order. A parenting plan is a written agreement which is signed by both parents. They are effective where there are low levels of animosity or where an agreement is likely to need to be changed regularly. Unfortunately, they are unenforceable in the event of a dispute which cannot be resolved which means that they carry a large element of risk should the co-parenting relationship deteriorate.
The other way to record a parenting agreement is by way of Consent Orders. This is similar to a parenting plan, however the consent orders are lodged with the Family Court of Australia and become an Order of the Court. This means that in the event one party breaches the Order, then the other party is able to enforce the agreement. The problem is that in order to have the agreement changed, the parties will need to either see a solicitor or make an application to the Court to vary the Order, which can be an expensive application to make.
Which is best for you? This will depend on your individual circumstances. As no two families are the same, different methods suit different people. If you have recently separated from your spouse and want some advice as to negotiating a parenting agreement, contact our office and we will put you in touch with one of our Family Law experts who will be able to assist you in negotiating an agreement and then documenting it in the most appropriate way.